Apple's next goal: an unbreakable iPhone

Breaking down Apple's fight with the FBI
Breaking down Apple's fight with the FBI

Now that the FBI has discovered Apple can actually hack into its own iPhones, Apple engineers see their next goal as making a version of the device that even Apple can't break into.

Apple engineers are now in a race against time to see if they can design an unbreakable iPhone in the next few months. They hope the added security can appear in the next iteration of Apple's operating system and its next iPhone model, according to several security researchers in direct contact with Apple employees.

The FBI, investigating the San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people, is demanding that the company create a weaker version of its software -- an unprecedented step that Apple says could have far-reaching implications. The FBI then wants Apple to inject that new code into the iPhone 5C of the dead shooter, making it hackable.

In essence, the FBI revealed a vulnerability in the iPhone, showing that it was open to attack -- from its maker.

That's why engineers are now seeking to increase the security of Apple's flagship product. As it currently stands, Apple can't abide by its previous promise to customers: that its devices are impenetrable for the sake of security and privacy.

In real terms, Apple would likely need to update its hardware and software. A separate chip on the iPhone, known as the "Secure Enclave," is what guards the phone's unlocking process. The FBI discovered that Apple could make that chip dumb by updating its firmware.

Put it this way: The iPhone's extra security chip is a big, musclebound guard standing in front of a castle. But its only weakness is that it listens to its creator -- and follows its every command. Apple's logical next step is to make that guard stop listening to anyone -- and always block intruders.

Three independent computer researchers with expertise in Apple products and encryption said they've heard Apple is heading in this direction. However, none of them were willing to be quoted on this matter, fearing that Apple engineers could face retribution by the company or be forced to testify in Apple's current court fight with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Apple (AAPL) will not confirm that it's working on this. The company's stated policy is to not discuss future products. However, a company spokesman has made clear that Apple routinely improves the security of its devices and services.

Making customer data unreachable would fit with Apple's track record, the company representative said.

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