Apple Hires Cryptography Expert Amid Encryption Debate

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Jon Callas heads back to Apple to help develop security technologies for more secure devices

Apple has hired a security expert in order to bolster the security of its handsets following the recent encryption clash with US federal authorities.

Jon Callas is a noted cryptography expert who has co-founded a number of well known companies, including PGP Corp and Silent Circle. More recently he co-founded Blackphone, which offers a privacy-focused smartphone.

Third Time Lucky?

This is not the first time that Callas has worked for Apple. He previously worked for the iPad maker in 1995 to 1997 and held the position of ‘Senior Scientist II’, but left a year before Steve Jobs returned to the ailing company.

He also worked for Apple between 2009 and 2011, where he was responsible for an encryption system to protect data stored on a Macintosh computer, according to Reuters.

Apple reportedly refused to comment on what his new role at the company would be, other than he began work at the company in May.

blackphoneCallas has previously spoken out against tech firms being forced to break open their products for law enforcement, but he is thought to favour a compromise approach, where law enforcement can take advantage of undisclosed software vulnerabilities to hack tech systems, providing they have a court order and they disclose the vulnerability afterwards, so it can be patched.

He has also stated that tech companies are a bigger threat to privacy than the government, thanks to the mass collection of data carried out by many tech firms.

Encryption Battleground

The hiring of Callas comes at a sensitive time, with a growing rift between tech firms and law enforcement over the ability to access personal data stored on mobile devices.

This was evidenced most recently by Apple’s very public battle against the FBI, which requested that it help unlock the iPhone of the dead San Bernardino terrorist.

Apple under Tim Cook refused to provide the FBI with access to the iPhone 5C, claiming such measures would damage trust among customers, compromise the security of its products, and set a dangerous precedent. Tim Cook said the FBI’s proposal would create the ‘software equivalent to cancer’.

The FBI went to court to force the issue, but proceedings were abandoned after it was able to access data without the assistance of Apple. It used a third party “grey hat” hacker, who was reportedly paid $1.34 million (£928,740) to unlock the phone.

Meanwhile a US Senate Committee is considering a draft bill that would penalise tech firms who refuse court orders over encrypted data. In April, President Obama refused to support the draft legislation that would require technology companies to help law enforcement crack encryption.

But Obama has little time left in the White House.

Presidential contenders Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both previously backed US government attempts to force tech firms to open their encrypted services to law enforcement.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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