Revealed: CIA spent a decade trying to hack iPhones, iPads

Revealed: CIA spent a decade trying to hack iPhones, iPads
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Researchers working with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have spent nearly a decade trying to crack the security of iPhones and iPads, according to newly released documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The previously unknown CIA effort appears focused on gaining access to user data on mobile phones and tablets around the world, as well as introducing backdoors to monitor devices at will.

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It's unclear whether researchers affiliated with the spy agency have succeeded at breaking Apple’s encryption coding, according to a report Tuesday in The Intercept. 

“Studying both ‘physical’ and 'non-invasive' techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware,” the Intercept report stated.

“This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption.”

CIA researchers also claim to have found a way to introduce surveillance backdoors into almost any mobile application sold through Apple App Store. To do this, teams allegedly created a modified version of Apple’s proprietary software development tool, Xcode.

The effort began as early as 2006, a year before Apple released its first iPhone, the documents said. Researchers shared their efforts at a secret annual conference sponsored by the CIA known as the “Jamboree.” 

The revelations are likely to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Silicon Valley just as major tech firms are endeavoring to restore public confidence in their products’ security.

Apple increased the strength of its iPhone encryption last September, saying that the company could no longer extract data on the devices, even under a search warrant.

The Intercept reported last month that American and British spies hacked into the internal network of the world’s largest SIM card manufacturer in order to steal millions of cellphone encryption keys.