Another Perturbation of the Intelware Market: Apple Cores Forbidden Fruit

August 6, 2021

It may be tempting for some to view Apple’s decision to implement a classic man-in-the-middle process. If the information in “Apple Plans to Scan US iPhones for Child Abuse Imagery” is correct, the maker of the iPhone has encroached on the intelware service firms’ bailiwick. The paywalled newspaper reports:

Apple intends to install software on American iPhones to scan for child abuse imagery

The approach — dubbed ‘neuralMatch’ — is on the iPhone device, thus providing functionality substantially similar to other intelware vendors’ methods for obtaining data about a user’s actions.

The article concludes:

According to people briefed on the plans, every photo uploaded to iCloud in the US will be given a “safety voucher” saying whether it is suspect or not. Once a certain number of photos are marked as suspect, Apple will enable all the suspect photos to be decrypted and, if apparently illegal, passed on to the relevant authorities.

Observations:

  1. The idea allows Apple to provide a function likely to be of interest to law enforcement and intelligence professionals; for example, requesting a report about a phone with filtered and flagged data are metadata
  2. Specialized software companies may have an opportunity to refine existing intelware or develop a new category of specialized services to make sense of data about on-phone actions
  3. The proposal, if implemented, would create a PR opportunity for either Apple or its critics to try to leverage
  4. Legal issues about the on-phone filtering and metadata (if any) would add friction to some legal matters.

One question: How similar is this proposed Apple service to the operation of intelware like that allegedly available from the Hacking Team, NSO Group, and other vendors? Another question: Is this monitoring a trial balloon or has the system and method been implemented in test locations; for example, China or an Eastern European country?

Stephen E Arnold, August 6, 2021

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