iCloud Backups Not as Secure as iOS Devices to Make Restoring Data Easier

icloud_icon_blueApple's ongoing fight with the FBI over whether the company can be compelled to help the government unlock the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook has brought the full range of Apple's privacy policies into the spotlight.

The details surrounding the case have made it clear that while Apple is unable to access information on iOS devices, the same is not true of iCloud backups. Apple can decrypt an iCloud backup and provide the information to authorities when ordered to do so via a warrant, as it did in the San Bernardino case.

In a piece posted on The Verge entitled "The iCloud Loophole," Walt Mossberg takes a look at Apple's iCloud backups and explains the reason why iCloud data can't be made as secure as data stored solely on an iPhone or iPad.

Apple is able to decrypt "most" of the data included in an iCloud backup, and an Apple official told Mossberg that's because the company views privacy and security issues differently between physical devices that can be lost and iCloud. With iCloud, it needs to be accessible by Apple so it can be used for restoring data.

However, in the case of iCloud, while security must also be strong, Apple says it must leave itself the ability to help the user restore their data, since that's a key purpose of the service. This difference also helps dictate Apple's response to law enforcement requests. The company's position is that it will provide whatever relevant information it has to government agencies with proper, legal requests. However, it says, it doesn't have the information needed to open a passcode-protected iPhone, so it has nothing to give. In the case of iCloud backups, however, it can access the information, so it can comply.

iCloud backups contain iMessages and texts, content purchase history, photos and videos, device settings, app data, voicemail password, and health data. Backups don't include information that's easily downloadable, such as emails from servers or apps, and while iCloud backup does encompass iCloud keychain, Wi-Fi passwords, and passwords for third-party services, that information is encrypted in a way that makes it inaccessible to Apple.

Mossberg suggests customers who don't want to upload data to Apple via an iCloud backup make local encrypted backups through iTunes using a Mac or PC, and he points out that other cloud storage services, like Dropbox, are no more secure.

Mossberg's full exploration of iCloud is available over at The Verge and is well worth reading for anyone interested in the security of data stored in the cloud.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
61 months ago
This is called security theater.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago
Technically Apple could absolutely offer a cloud backup solution where even they couldn't access the data. For example, they could let the user pick a backup password (same as they already do for encrypted iTunes backup) and use it to encrypt the data before uploading to iCloud. Of course this means that users who forget the password couldn't restore their backup, which is why they should probably make this optional and give the user a proper warning. And, BTW, there are cloud services that use similar approaches to encrypt their users' data, e.g. Spideroak and the backup service Crashplan.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago

Technically Apple could absolutely offer a cloud backup solution where even they couldn't access the data. For example, they could let the user pick a backup password (same as they already do for encrypted iTunes backup) and use it to encrypt the data before uploading to iCloud. Of course this means that users who forget the password couldn't restore their backup, which is why they should probably make this optional and give the user a proper warning. And, BTW, there are cloud services that use similar approaches to encrypt their users' data, e.g. Spideroak and the backup service Crashplan.

Wouldn't Apple would have to store enencryption keys in the cloud though to make it work on a different device than the original phone?
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago
Now everyone will want a 1TB iPhone, since they won't want to be backing up all that secure stuff they own to the iCloud.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago
I guessed that already, but now it's a fact on public record. The only 'safe' solution is to delete all our iCloud backups data, and not use any iCloud services.

But here is the problem! Apple is increasingly integrating iCloud services deep into its iOS and Mac OS X. It's almost impossible to use Apple products without iCloud. This is scary... :eek:

We're all already trapped deep in total surveillance by the NSA and god knows by whom else. The orwellian society is real! :(

I feel like a chimp sitting in a zoo while constantly being watched. Welcome to the 21st century's privacy striptease.

The only way out of our modern tech zoo is going low-tech and to move to an isolated island, dig a cave there (beware spy satellites), and hide there forever.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago

Now everyone will want a 1TB iPhone, since they won't want to be backing up all that secure stuff they own to the iCloud.

1TB hard drives are very inexpensive nowadays. Unless you don't have access to a computer, backing your iPhone up to an encrypted drive or two or three, storing one in a bank vault, you're more secure than backing up to any cloud.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

First Impressions From New iPhone 12 and 12 Pro Owners

Thursday October 22, 2020 4:20 pm PDT by
It's already Friday, October 23, in Australia and New Zealand, which means some customers who purchased an iPhone 12 or 12 Pro already have their new devices in hand. We've seen dozens of reviews of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro from media sites, but now first impressions from regular Apple customers are available. Image via MacRumors reader Boardiesboi New iPhone 12 and 12 Pro owners are...

Early iPhone 12 Tests Show Ceramic Shield is Stronger and More Scratch Resistant Than iPhone 11 Glass

Friday October 23, 2020 1:21 pm PDT by
Apple's new iPhone 12 models are protected by a Ceramic Shield cover glass that has nano-ceramic crystals infused right into the glass to improve durability. According to Apple, Ceramic Shield offers four times better drop protection than the glass used for the iPhone 11 models. YouTube channel MobileReviewsEh conducted some tests on the iPhone 12 using a force meter to compare its performance ...

Apple Distributing New Heated Display Removal Machine for iPhone 12 Repairs

Thursday October 22, 2020 6:20 pm PDT by
Apple is providing Genius Bars and Apple Authorized Service Providers with a new heated display removal fixture for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro repairs, according to information obtained by MacRumors from a reliable source. To open iPhone 12 models, technicians will be required to slide the device into a specialized tray, and then place the tray into the high-temperature fixture for two...

Apple VP Kaiann Drance Interview Addresses Battery Life, MagSafe, and Power Adapter Concerns

Friday October 23, 2020 3:37 am PDT by
Apple's Vice President of iPhone Marketing, Kaiann Drance, has provided a new interview to Rich DeMuro on the Rich on Tech Podcast, to discuss the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. Although much of the interview repeated points from Apple's "Hi, Speed" event, there were a number of interesting tidbits regarding the affect of 5G on battery life, MagSafe concerns, and the lack of a power adapter in...

Teardown Video Confirms iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Use Same 2,815mAh Battery

Thursday October 22, 2020 9:47 am PDT by
With the iPhone 12 launching on Friday and in just a few hours to Australia and New Zealand, hands-on videos, teardowns, reviews, and other iPhone-related content has been coming out. A new teardown video delves into both the iPhone 12 and the 12 Pro, confirming battery life for both models and giving us a closer look at their internals. The video from Io Technology is in Chinese, but ...

Images of Supposed AirPods Diagnosis Tool Shared Online

Thursday October 22, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Apple is reportedly rolling out a new tool to Apple service providers for testing AirPods, according to leaker known as "Fudge," who shared images of the tool on Twitter. Apple appears to be seeking to reduce unnecessary AirPods services by more accurately diagnosing the cause of a fault. Instances of a dirt-blockage, which may be difficult to ascertain visually, can apparently be...

New Photos Offer Better Look at iPhone 12 Color Options

Tuesday October 20, 2020 2:34 am PDT by
As we wait for the iPhone 12 review embargo to lift later today, more pictures are circulating of the devices in real-world lighting conditions, providing a better look at the different colors available. Leaker DuanRui has shared images on Twitter of the iPhone 12 in white, black, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED. The black and white colors are similar to the iPhone 11 colors, but the other...

Apple's AirTags Revealed in Newly Published Patent Applications

Thursday October 22, 2020 9:13 am PDT by
Two patent applications filed by Apple appear to depict the company's widely expected AirTags item trackers (via Patently Apple). The filings, which include a large number of images, are titled "Mounting Base for a Wirelessly Locatable Tag" and "Fastener with a Constrained Retention Ring," and describe a wirelessly locatable tag that can be used to determine the absolute location of an...

iPhone 11 Pro Outlasts iPhone 12 and 12 Pro in Extensive Battery Life Test

Friday October 23, 2020 8:36 am PDT by
Arun Maini today shared a new side-by-side iPhone battery life video test on his YouTube channel Mrwhosetheboss, timing how long the new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models last on a single charge compared to older models, with equal brightness, settings, battery health, and usage. All of the devices are running iOS 14 without a SIM card inserted. In the test, the iPhone 11 Pro outlasted both ...

Apple Warns MagSafe Charger Can Leave Circular Imprints on Leather Cases

Friday October 23, 2020 3:23 pm PDT by
If you keep your iPhone in a leather case while charging with Apple's new MagSafe Charger, the case might show circular imprints from contact with the accessory, according to a new Apple support document published today. Apple's leather cases for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are not available until November 6, but a MacRumors reader has already shared a photo of a circular imprint on...