Apple's 'Unbreakable' iOS Device Encryption Highlighted

apple security iconTechnology Review takes a look at the evolution of security on the iPhone, noting how Apple has been able to gain acceptance in government and enterprise by overcoming its initially lax stance on device security to roll out industry-leading encryption options that can defeat essentially all attempts at accessing properly protected devices.

At the heart of Apple's security architecture is the Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm (AES), a data-scrambling system published in 1998 and adopted as a U.S. government standard in 2001. After more than a decade of exhaustive analysis, AES is widely regarded as unbreakable. The algorithm is so strong that no computer imaginable for the foreseeable future—even a quantum computer—would be able to crack a truly random 256-bit AES key. The National Security Agency has approved AES-256 for storing top-secret data.

As Apple highlights in a recent white paper (PDF) on iOS security, this hardware security involves the incorporation of a unique AES-256 key fused into each iOS device and which can not be directly read.

Access to the device's software can be restricted with a PIN passcode, and while the default passcode option for iOS is a four-digit number, users can opt to use significantly longer and more complex passcodes. And with brute-force attacks required to break iOS passcodes needing to be run on the device itself at a speed of 80 milliseconds per attempt, a device with an eight-digit passcode could take up to 15 years to compromise.

"There are a lot of issues when it comes to extracting data from iOS devices," says Amber Schroader, CEO of Paraben, a supplier of forensic software, hardware, and services for cell phones. "We have had many civil cases we have not been able to process ... for discovery because of encryption blocking us."

Most of the information included in this report is not particularly new, and Apple's white paper goes into more detail on the company's efforts to address security on iOS devices, but the report offers an overview of the layers of security Apple has built into its products.

Top Rated Comments

chainprayer Avatar
123 months ago
Will Apple phone tech support tell you your key if you give them your home address and last 4 digits of your credit card number?
Score: 44 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BC2009 Avatar
123 months ago
So the best approach would be to hack the user instead of the device...
*Phone Rings*

Hi this is Tom calling from Apple. We noticed some recent activity on your iTunes account potentially originating from your iPhone and we need your iPhone device passcode to verify whether or not these charges for $45,912 are fraudulent so we can refund your money.

...
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KnightWRX Avatar
123 months ago
Security works in layers. Implementing a layer is as important as implementing the whole. People saying this is useless are only looking at it at the layer level.

Sure the passkey can be gotten from social engineering. However, this is not what this layer of security protects. This protects someone from accessing what is on the NAND memory if they have physical access to the device itself, but not the user (stolen/lost iPhone). This is a requirement for enterprises as they do not want their secrets to fall into the wrong hands.

As such, Blackberries were highly regarded.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Zunjine Avatar
123 months ago
Not to be picky.

"Not to be picky" is as certain the preceed pickiness as "with all due respect" is certain to forshadow an utter lack thereof.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Bezetos Avatar
123 months ago
Big deal. Most smartphones use encryption.

Moreover:

(...) a device with an eight-digit passcode could take up to 15 years to compromise.
That's not true.

Direct quote from Apple's white paper (http://images.apple.com/ipad/business/docs/iOS_Security_May12.pdf):
The iteration count is calibrated so that one attempt takes approximately 80 milliseconds. This means it would take more than 5½ years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers, or 2½ years for a nine-digit passcode with numbers only.

An eight-digit passcode would "only" take 92 days to compromise. A four-digit passcode (from my experience the most popular one) would only take 13 minutes to compromise.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gjwfoasfsaevg Avatar
123 months ago
So Apple is using AES. Big deal. Most systems are not cracked by breaking the encryption algorithm, but by exploiting weaknesses in key management. XBOX, PS3, Bluray, iCloud, FileVault are notable examples where the best encryption algorithm in the world wouldn't have changed anything.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iPhone 14 Mock pill and hole thumb

ProMotion Now Expected to Remain Exclusive to iPhone 14 Pro Models, Not Expand to Entire Lineup

Sunday January 16, 2022 8:56 am PST by
Continuing the tradition set with the iPhone 13 Pro, only the highest-end iPhone 14 models will feature Apple's ProMotion display technology, according to a respected display analyst. Ross Young, who on multiple occasions has detailed accurate information about Apple's future products, said in a tweet that ProMotion will not be expanded to the entire iPhone 14 lineup and will remain...
AirPods Pro Gen 3 Mock Feature Red

AirPods Pro 2 Could Start a New Accessory Ecosystem

Friday January 14, 2022 2:34 am PST by
Apple's second-generation AirPods Pro could arrive alongside a new series of accessories, recent leaked images suggest. Alleged leaked photos of the next-generation AirPods Pro obtained by MacRumors showed a charging case with a metal loop on the side for attaching a strap. Apple has not used this design for any of its other AirPod models and it is unclear why it would be added in this...
Unlikely Products 2022 Feature

Six Rumored Apple Products You're Unlikely to See This Year

Saturday January 15, 2022 2:06 pm PST by
Much has been said about what consumers could see from Apple in 2022, but the company is also working on a handful of rumored products that aren't expected to be unveiled for at least another 12 months, and in some cases a lot longer. Of course, that's assuming they get released at all. Apple works on many potential products some of which ultimately never see the light of day. With that in...
safari icon blue banner

Safari Bug Allows Websites to Track Your Recent Browsing Activity in Real Time

Sunday January 16, 2022 3:37 pm PST by
A bug in WebKit's implementation of a JavaScript API called IndexedDB can reveal your recent browsing history and even your identity, according to a blog post shared on Friday by browser fingerprinting service FingerprintJS. In a nutshell, the bug allows any website that uses IndexedDB to access the names of IndexedDB databases generated by other websites during a user's browsing session....
ipad air 4 video

New iPad Air Rumored to Launch This Spring With A15 Chip, 5G, Center Stage Camera, and More

Saturday January 15, 2022 8:05 pm PST by
Apple is planning to release a fifth-generation iPad Air with similar features as the sixth-generation iPad mini, including an A15 Bionic chip, 12-megapixel Ultra Wide front camera with Center Stage support, 5G for cellular models, and Quad-LED True Tone flash, according to Japanese blog Mac Otakara. Citing reliables sources in China, the report claims that the new iPad Air could be...
netflix2

Netflix Again Raises Prices for All Plans, 4K Streaming Now $20 Per Month

Friday January 14, 2022 12:46 pm PST by
Netflix today updated the prices for its streaming plans, and all of its offerings are now more expensive. The Basic plan is now priced at $9.99 per month, the Standard plan is priced at $15.49 per month, and the Premium plan is priced at $19.99 per month. The Basic plan is $1 more expensive, up from $8.99 per month. This plan allows users to watch on just one screen at a time, and it limits ...
top stories 20220115

Top Stories: iPhone 14 Pro Rumors, iCloud Private Relay Controversy, iOS 15.2.1 Released, and More

Saturday January 15, 2022 6:00 am PST by
Hole-punch? Pill? Hole-punch and pill? Rumors about what the front camera system on the iPhone 14 Pro will look like are evolving rapidly, and it now appears we might be getting a novel but potentially controversial design later this year. Other major stories this week included some confusion and controversy about iCloud Private Relay being disabled for some T-Mobile customers, increasing...
iPhone 14 Mock pill and hole 16x9 120hz

Analyst: All iPhone 14 Models to Feature 120Hz Displays, 6GB of RAM, and More

Friday January 14, 2022 7:02 am PST by
Apple is rumored to announce four new iPhone 14 models in September, and ahead of time, analyst Jeff Pu has outlined his expectations for the devices. In a research note with Haitong International Securities, obtained by MacRumors, Pu claimed that all iPhone 14 models will feature ProMotion displays, compared to only Pro models currently. ProMotion enables a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz ...