Apple denies NSA back-door, confirms gag order

January 27, 2014 // 10:47 a.m.

Tags: #apple #back-door #ios #mac-os #national-security-agency #nsa #os-x #privacy #secrecy #security-edward-snowden

Apple has denied claims that its software comes with a built-in back-door at the request of the National Security Agency (NSA), but admits that it operates under a gagging order that prevents it from revealing too much about its work with the spook outfit.

Rumours of NSA back-doors in commercial software have long been the stuff of legend, but leaks of internal NSA documentation by Edward Snowden have suggested that they're very much factual. The NSA's involvement in ensuring it can access things its subjects might not want accessed range from encouraging - financially, in some cases - security software vendors to adopt insecure random number generation algorithms to the taxpayer-funded security analysis of commercial software with a view to finding holes and not telling the vendor of the problem, to keep the access route open for as long as possible.

It is also suggested that the NSA has a more direct hand in reducing the functional security of products, forcing US-based manufacturers to place back-doors into their software and hardware specifically for NSA use. Microsoft has long been accused of working with the NSA on this - something the company, naturally, denies while admitting that the NSA has helped the company develop security-related portions of the Windows operating system - and on the 30th anniversary of the Mac it's now Apple's turn.

'There is no back door. The government doesn’t have access to our servers. They would have to cart us out in a box for that — and that just will not happen,' Apple's chief executive Tim Cook told ABC News of the rumour. 'We feel that strongly about it.'

Cook did admit, however, that the company is under a US government gagging order which prevents it from detailing how it does work with the NSA to monitor its customers. 'From my point of view, number one, we need to be significantly more transparent. We need to say what data is being given, how many people it affects, how many accounts are affected. We need to be clear and we have a gag order on us right now, and so, we can’t say those things.'

Cook has pledged to make a formal request to President Barack Obama to be allowed more transparency in his company's dealings with the NSA and other governmental authorities.

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