TECH
10/18/2013 01:34 pm ET

Apple Could Read Your iMessages If It Wanted To, Research Firm Claims

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Though Apple zealously denies any interest in reading your iMessages, a new report claims the company can easily read your iPhone chats, if it wants to.

Security research company Quarkslab on Thursday published a paper detailing just how Apple could go about this. iMessages have end-to-end encryption, meaning messages are scrambled on one iPhone or iPad, sent across the Internet as an unreadable string of code and unscrambled by the iPhone or iPad that receives it.

This means iMessages are indecipherable to any third party that intercepts them. Apple has said in the past that it uses end-to-end encryption on iMessages and FaceTime conversations.

But the researchers found that Apple's servers hold the encryption key necessary to decode iMessages. The firm's conclusion: "Apple can read your iMessages if they choose to, or if they are required to do so by a government order."

Though Apple may be capable of decoding iMessages, Quarkslab does not claim to have evidence that Apple has acted on that capability. In a statement to The Huffington Post, Apple reiterated that it has no desire to do so.

"iMessage is not architected to allow Apple to read messages," Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller said. "The research discussed theoretical vulnerabilities that would require Apple to re-engineer the iMessage system to exploit it, and Apple has no plans or intentions to do so."

In June, Apple was implicated in government documents leaked by Edward Snowden of participating in PRISM, the secret spy program that reportedly gave the National Security Agency "direct access" to tech companies' servers.

At the time, Apple issued a strongly worded statement denying involvement. "We have never heard of PRISM," Apple said. "We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."

There's reason to believe that Apple is one of the more privacy-conscious companies among the Silicon Valley giants. According to leaked documents from Snowden, Apple did cooperate with the NSA on PRISM, but was the last of seven companies to do so. The program started in 2007, and Apple only joined in 2012, according to the documents.

And the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, control freak that he was, resisted joining PRISM, according to one of his colleagues. “Steve Jobs would’ve rather died than give into that," developer Andrew Stone told the Cult of Mac.

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