The fact that the National Security Agency aggressively pursued private information about US citizens may have brought the topic of privacy back to the forefront of public discourse, but the degree to which major companies comply with NSA requests could play a larger part in turning that conversation into action. With brand loyalty and customer dollars at stake, many tech companies have stepped up to dismiss claims that they’ve proactively aided the collection of private data, and Apple is the latest to do so.
A recently leaked document revealed that the NSA was using spyware called “DROPOUTJEEP” to keep tabs on Apple customers. The software targeted iPhones and was not only able to collect and transmit information from the phone, but also turn on the camera and microphone when prompted.
The documents indicate that the software was employed during 2008, and while Apple has stated the software would not have worked with newer operating systems, it is unknown to what extent other versions of the program exist. The complexity of the software has led some to believe that Apple was involved in its development.
But In a statement released on Dec. 31, Apple denied working with the NSA to transmit user data. "Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone… Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers' privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements."
The same leaked document details NSA plans to gain access to information stored on products made by Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks and others, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The leaders of such powerful tech companies as Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo have openly admonished the NSA’s information collection practices, and have also denied working with them to help the collection of information.
Given the increasing concern from customers about privacy, it’s perhaps not surprising that large tech companies are on the defensive. The discovery that a large company aided the NSA would undoubtedly have significant ramifications on the trustworthiness of corporate data security and would likely be a huge financial blow to the guilty party.
The NSA also released a statement on Dec. 31 saying, “the U.S. government is as concerned as the public is with the security of these products. While we cannot comment on specific, alleged intelligence-gathering activities, NSA's interest in any given technology is driven by the use of that technology by foreign intelligence targets. The U.S. pursues its intelligence mission with care to ensure that innocent users of those same technologies are not affected."
For more background on government information collection, check out these stories: