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San Bernadino iPhone Case: Major Press Agencies Are Suing the FBI

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The Associated Press, Gannett, and VICE Media are suing the FBI to know more details about the agency’s hack of the San Bernadino killer’s iPhone.

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Readers may recall the case of the encrypted iPhone from last December’s San Bernadino shootings. The locked iPhone, which was issued to one of the shooters by his workplace, managed to rekindle an age-old debate about government versus consumers in computer security, with some in the government community advocating universal backdoors into all technology.

For its part, Apple made clear to all that it was unable to actually get into an encrypted iPhone, and further that even if it were able, it would be unwilling. In unrelated cases, federal judges have ordered the company to comply with government requests to interfere with the encryption it offers to its own customers.

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In the case of the San Bernadino iPhone, the government was essentially asking Apple to task its employees with the job the FBI. Openly flouting the government proved a well-received move by Apple – at least by its employees and the tech community at large. The case drew so much attention that then-aspiring Libertarian presidential candidate and computer security pioneer John McAfee famously boasted that he would break into the iPhone for the government free of charge. McAfee later admitted, however, this was merely a publicity stunt.

Then, one day in March, the government stopped demanding that Apple help it crack its own encryption or bypass its security measures. The FBI announced that someone had helped them get into the phone and retrieve the missing data. Now exactly who helped them and what ends were achieved as a result of the charade remains unknown to the public, many months later. A group of three major media organizations including the Associated Press and Gannett, who own the likes of USA Today, find this lack of information unacceptable and are suing the government to know these remaining details. The joint suit’s Freedom of Information Act request reads, in part:

Understanding the amount that the FBI deemed appropriate to spend on the tool, as well as the identity and reputation of the vendor it did business with, is essential for the public to provide effective oversight of government functions and help guard against potential improprieties.

To date, the government has said very little about the contents of the device, the cost of the tool which suddenly helped the FBI, or who provided it. FBI director James Comey has snarkily told reporters that the tool cost more than he will make in his remaining years as a government employee, but the lawsuit alleges that there is no legal basis for the FBI to withhold the information. It is a wonder that Apple itself had not previously filed the request itself, being the most concerned party of all in terms of who has the ability to crack

It is a wonder that Apple itself had not previously filed the request itself, being the most concerned party of all in terms of who has the ability to crack encryption on a model of its phone (iPhone 5C with iOS 9) that still enjoys moderate popularity in the wild.

Perhaps most disconcerting about the whole event is the conclusion that no actual helpful data was present on the device when the FBI did finally gain access. This means that the privacy rights of Americans and American businesses were called into question over what amounts to a false alarm – no security would have been gained in exchange for essential liberty, as the saying goes.

Letterpress background, close up of many old, random metal letters with copy space

It is the tendency and some might even say the duty of federal police agencies to press against constitutional safeguards which make their job harder. It can reasonably be expected they will always do this. At the same time, it is the job of the press to be the watchdogs of the society and to sound the alarm when government overreaches. In this case, that is exactly what the Associated Press, Gannett, and VICE Media are doing.

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Toward Unbreakable Quantum Encryption for Everyone

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Hacked recently covered the efforts of the Chinese government to build unbreakable quantum communication networks. According to analysts, quantum communications networks are so expensive that they could have a “recentralizing effect,” enabling states to recover the ground that they have lost to decentralizing digital technologies. But what if ultra-secure quantum cryptography could be made available to everyone at low cost?

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The Chinese Quantum Satellite QUESS: Toward Unbreakable Quantum Networks

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One year ago Hacked covered the race between the US and China to develop “military super-powers” by harnessing quantum science, and noted that Chinese scientists were developing quantum communication satellites that support unbreakable encryption. A few weeks ago, China launched its first quantum satellite.

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Sony Introduces 2FA for PlayStation Users

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In a long-awaited and overdue move, Sony has finally introduced two-factor authentication to PlayStation users who can now enable the security feature on their PlayStation Network (PSN) accounts.

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Five years after suffering a devastating hack that compromised the user details of some 77 million PlayStation Network users, Sony has introduced two-factor authentication (2FA) on PSN accounts. Sony confirmed the news with a tweet last night, explaining how the feature works.

“By requiring two forms of identification for sign-in, your account and personal information will be better protected.” Sony wrote in its blog.

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Users will be asked to provide a verification code that will be texted to their mobile phones at the time of signing into their PSN account. While the feature isn’t hack-proof (nothing is, really), it provides a much-needed extra layer of protection that a large platform like the PlayStation Network, with over 100 million uses, deserves.

Sony PS 2FA

Sony added:

Passwords can be compromised if you use the same password for multiple accounts, click on malicious links, open phishing emails and other methods.

If your password is compromised and becomes known to someone other than yourself, your account will still require a verification code to gain access when you activate 2-Step Verification.

With the feature, Sony caught up with its console rival Microsoft. The Redmond-based software giant had introduced 2FA for Xbox back in 2013, during the days of Xbox 360. Other platforms which sees millions of users such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and others have been offering 2FA security for years.

It is perhaps baffling that Sony took as long as it did to introduce 2FA security, after the 2011 breach. At the time, the hack had Sony admitting that names, email addresses, billing addresses, account passwords and some credit card numbers were all exposed. The fallout saw Sony fined by the UK government. Furthermore, Sony also agreed to a settlement in a class action lawsuit, worth millions, granting PSN users in the United States the means to claim damages if they suffered identity theft as a result of the data breach.

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