Apple’s iMessage encryption trips up U.S. feds’ surveillance

“Encryption used in Apple’s iMessage chat service has stymied attempts by federal drug enforcement agents to eavesdrop on suspects’ conversations, an internal government document reveals,” Declan McCullagh and Jennifer Van Grove report for CNET.

“An internal Drug Enforcement Administration document seen by CNET discusses a February 2013 criminal investigation and warns that because of the use of encryption, ‘it is impossible to intercept iMessages between two Apple devices’ even with a court order approved by a federal judge,” McCullagh and Van Grove report. “The DEA’s warning, marked ‘law enforcement sensitive,’ is the most detailed example to date of the technological obstacles — FBI director Robert Mueller has called it the ‘Going Dark’ problem — that police face when attempting to conduct court-authorized surveillance on non-traditional forms of communication.”

McCullagh and Van Grove report, “When Apple’s iMessage was announced in mid-2011, Cupertino said it would use ‘secure end-to-end encryption.’ It quickly became the most popular encrypted chat program in history: Apple CEO Tim Cook said last fall that 300 billion messages have been sent so far, which are transmitted through the Internet rather than as more costly SMS messages carried by wireless providers… Christopher Soghoian, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, said yesterday that ‘Apple’s service is not designed to be government-proof… It’s much much more difficult to intercept than a telephone call or a text message’ that federal agents are used to, Soghoian says. ‘The government would need to perform an active man-in-the-middle attack… The real issue is why the phone companies in 2013 are still delivering an unencrypted audio and text service to users. It’s disgraceful.'”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. Oh, shuiuuure I’m not gonna have my messages intercepted. Suuuure!!

    I think I’ll just iMessage my drug dealing, WMD hiding, terrorist luvin’ buddies today and see what they are pullin off this Friday at nine pm in front of the Federal Bldg.

    It’ll be a secure channel I’m sure. Sounds legit.

  2. Depriving the government of effective surveillance to catch bad guys is both a blessing and a curse. The knee jerk reaction is praising the information deprivation of “Big Brother” but at the cost of stopping genuine criminals and terrorists.

    1. Despite all the freedom we lost, despite pissing on the fourth amendment, we still have W’s patriot act and all we have to show for it is: Mustard ban on airplanes and fondling by the previously unemployable who now are government stooges and a distant memory of the fourth amendment.

      When will you wake up and realize we run debtors prisons and ‘Justice” is just a word for show. We still lock people up longer for holding weed than for touching kids private parts. Prosecutors offer deals to perps to catch other perps, police steal property to fund their acquisition of tools once only used by the military (for use against YOU) We are talking about a justice system guided by corporate interests, one that flips off science because facts be damned, we have been prosecuting weed for years, it can’t be based on racist bullshit. (even thought we all know it is)

      I would hardly call a technological measure to secure your own private conversations, ‘depriving’ to the government. If they had something actionable, you would be arrested.

      Excuse me if I do not cry for the corrupt, twisted US justice system.

      1. I am deeply concerned about our nation and where it is headed. Based on my concerns, some would call me a “gun nut”, a conspiracy theorist, a radical Liberal, a radical Conservative, or maybe just a nut. What I truly am is a radical Constitutionalist, and I’m afraid we could be in the process of losing this nation, its freedoms, and its future.

        First let us examine in a holistic way what is going on in this nation at the moment. We have been carrying on a war on terrorism for over 10 years now at a cost of $80B per year. That war effort has resulted in the creation of the DHS and TSA, the Patriot Act, the NDAA, and the recent purchase of enough ammunition by DHS to shoot every person in America 5 times. We now have warrantless searches and interception of American citizen’s private communications, and secretly approved searches and interception of private communications of American citizen’s. The President has been granted the power to assassinate American citizens overseas on his own authorization, while the same aerial drones used in those assassinations overseas have been authorized for “reconnaissance” purposes within the United States. Bid specifications for drones to be used within the United States include a requirement for “weapons delivery capability”. DHS, in addition to billions of rounds of ammunition, has ordered thousands of “personal protection” weapons, better known when in civilian hands not as “personal protection” weapons, but as “assault” weapons, while at the same time the most powerful attempts in history are being made to disarm the populace, and militarize the domestic police forces.

        It seems very strange to me that the very same people who worry that their personal safety is threatened by their next door neighbor owning guns are seemingly unconcerned about these much greater dangers.

        Each and every safeguard afforded us by the Bill of Rights is being quickly limited, eroded, and negated:

        The 1st Amendment is being limited through efforts at criminalizing “terrorist” and “hate” speech. The 2nd Amendment is being dismantled through the banning of certain weapons and accessory types from civilian possession. In both cases the same tactic is used, a special class of speech or weapon is carved out and then sliced off.

        The NDAA and the Patriot Act negate the protections in the 4th , 5th, 6th, and 7th Amendments, allowing such clear violations of the Constitution as indefinite detainment without charges, warrantless searches, secret warrants and indictments, denial of a fair and speedy trial by jury, and the right to confront accusers and refute evidence.

        The federal government continues to use the commerce clause disingenuously to bypass the 10th amendment and usurp powers reserved by the Constitution for the individual states.

        Those of us who look around and make note of all of these things recognize that all of the tools are rapidly falling into place that would enable a despotic administration to declare a national emergency and effectively suspend the Constitution, and with it our rights as citizens indefinitely. But if we voice our fears along these lines we are then declared to be speaking from the lunatic fringe. We are marginalized, discredited, and ridiculed by people who ought to know better, but have a pathological need to believe that all is well and that there is nothing to fear. They would have us believe that the world is a benign place, where none of these protections would ever be needed anyway. Their need to do so arises from a deep, unarticulated fear that if they admit to the possibility that these protections are necessary, they might have to actually think about possible unpleasant outcomes, and the possibility that they might have to stand up and defend these rights. They prefer to irrationally believe that America is different, and will continue to be different from all the other great empires, which have eventually fallen into ruin and despotism. They prefer not to contemplate the depth of evil to which powerful politicians, bureaucrats, and military officers are prone to sink without strong prohibitions concerning the exercise of raw power.

        I am afraid for this nation. You can call me paranoid if it makes you feel better. But it doesn’t negate the facts. Look around you. Wake up!

        1. That was a good post… I do believe the US will break apart based on history of what happens to empires. It has too. The federal government is too big, to power hungry, greedy, and no longer run by the people. It’s run by Corporations or those in ‘The Big Club’ that none of us are in. They no longer are bound by borders and have no perceived responsibility to the markets they exploit.

          There is two tier justice system: those with ungodly amounts of wealth and power that they are above any laws…and the average citizen who must obey them or else.

          States will have to become there own sovereign countries, with their own constitutions, asset backed, debt free currency, state banks, and collection of its own tax revenues to serve it’s communities better.

          Despite what everyone says we are not United. Each part of the country has it’s own culture, own way of doing things, and own needs. We need to decentralize the power structure of the Federal Government or shall I say the ‘Wall Street Bank Owned’ Federal Government.

          But, I guess you can call me crazy too and stick your head in the sand and wish it not to be.

      1. So 313c7ro, you’d be perfectly happy living somewhere like North Korea, or East Germany, with your every move, every utterance, every phone call, being subject to total police scrutiny, where even your neighbours watch your every move, and listen to everything you say, and report to the secret police?
        I’m sure you would be, you seem happy to be the subject of a government panopticon.
        Either that, or you’re a bloody idiot…

        1. He’s anti-American. Hates the good old USA. Has proven it time after time with his comments and rants about us. Having different points of view about tech stocks or companies is one thing, making anti-American comments constantly is another. I think you sized him up nicely.

        2. If the government knew every move I made and every thought I had, there is no way it could ever convict me of anything because their own records would prove me innocent. It is only INCOMPLETE information and innuendo that can be misused. You are right though, I am an idiot for casting pearls before swine.

          1. You know my POV on the subject all too well 3l3c7ro.

            [We had a long rant war about the subject months back].

            It’s a blind spot for you, IMHO. I know enough history to know what the right to privacy is worth and how it is worth keeping and fighting for. You brought up ‘Big Brother’. I’m sorry you find that concept of government surveillance to be remotely acceptable. This is the country of We The People, not the country of Them The Boss Of Us. Abuse of power is consistently the result of providing power to fellow human beings, no matter what is the situation. Full surveillance power handed to a government is a REQUEST for that power to be abused, simple as that.

            Law enforcement has to work WITH the US Constitution, never against it. Nothing subverts our right to privacy for any reason, except crime. That concept must be the foundation of how our government moves forward into the computer data age. They’re going to have to deal with it. I abdicate none of my rights and I commit no crimes, which is the ideal state of US citizens.

            But I know you disagree. I still like many of your other points of view.

      2. How many ‘terrorists” have we caught since the patriot act?

        How many times have TSA failed tests and proven their utter incompetence?

        Don’t be such a stooge..

        1. When a light is shone in a dark cockroach infested area, they scatter. If the light doesn’t show any cockroaches, they are hiding in the shadows and afraid to come out. The absence of cockroaches does not mean that the light is not an effective tool.

          For you ‘Truth’, your only way to avoid punishment for your crimes is to avoid the truth. In fact, you are deadly afraid to the total truth.

          1. I’m no criminal, there are no crimes committed here other than speeding.

            The truth of the matter is that prior to my honorable discharge I held a top secret clearance in the us military. As a matter of truth, I was a UAV payload operator in the 90’s before they became so ambiguous. I’ve seen corruption at very high levels pal, if you think the government, in particular the justice department is pure and has your interests at heart, you are a bigger lemming than I thought.

            Neat analogy but we the people are not roaches. The problem dear sir is the lack of light shining on the government to protect the people. Interesting to me that such a defiant personality falls for the propaganda in this piece. Time for you to face the truth, they want to collect more data on us than google or Facebook, they don’t want to sell it, they want to fill CCI’s private prisons. Once data is collected it can be hacked, stolen, traded. It isn’t that I think iMessage is hallowed ground, it is the larger picture this fits into and the Orwellian nightmare that is coming.

            1. The more real data collected, the less likely that they can use it against you. The truth will set us free. Missing data will be what will cause suspicion in a criminal case.

            2. Spoken like a spook. The constitution is supposed to protect us from this.

              It is not our role to be an open book to the government, but it should be the role of government to be an open book to US, we the people.

  3. Freedom doesn’t mean privacy people. I doubt people will be prosecuted for messaging alone. The government uses data for useful purposes much like the Brits use technology to catch and thwart terrorist attacks. If you don’t want to be seen in public, don’t use the sidewalks. If you don’t want what you send over the internet to be seen, don’t use the internet. Instead, live like a hermit.

    1. Reading most email is trivial, EXCEPT when the email is encrypted. I can encrypt ALL my email if I desire. But only mail receivers who use the same public key encryption will be able to read it.

      As for cracking encryption, that is entirely possible up to a point. 128 bit and 256 bit AES encryption, if performed correctly, is entirely Unbreakable. If performed poorly, we already know it is indeed crackable. Lower bit encryption is commonly cracked. Some oddball encryption schemes have backdoors built in. Some ‘encryption’ schemes are a total joke.

      The government is going to have to deal with what We The People do with our data and work around the fact that UNcrackable encryption is here to stay and is only going to be come stronger and ubiquitous. We The People have zero obligation to bow down to any inconvenience this creates in law enforcement. That’s just the fact of the matter, don’t shoot the messenger, etc. There are OTHER legal, court-ordered, warranted methods of catching the bad guys, with which I am always happy to assist, and I do.

  4. Dear FBI,

    Welcome to the future, where citizens take control of their RIGHT TO PRIVACY.

    Sorry it gets in the way of ‘court ordered’ surveillance. But Constitutionally guaranteed citizen rights ALWAYS take precedence, seeing as you are employees of We The People, the writers and beneficiaries of the US Constitution.

    Suggestion: Research and apply other court-ordered forms of surveillance. Encryption is only going to become stronger and ubiquitous as more citizens fortify their right to privacy. That’s the fact. Please don’t kill the messenger. 🙂

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