UK military to ‘harden’ iPhone 7 for communicating state secrets
Fri 27 Jan 2017
Despite years of federal scrutiny over its security practices including marked fallouts with the U.S. government on privacy issues, Apple is to offer its iPhone 7 as the ‘device of choice’ for the UK military’s secure communications.
British telecom giant BT is said to be ‘hardening’ the Apple device in order for it to be able to handle the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) military communications, including state secrets and highly-sensitive data.
While BT has not provided further details on the development, due to security reasons, the telco is reportedly in the process of upgrading the iPhone 7 to support various modes of operation and to add secure apps or ‘storage containers’, as well as military-grade encryption features among other enhancements.
According to a TechRepublic report, Steve Bunn, technical business manager for defence at BT, said: “We’ve been working very closely with [the MoD] to develop what we’ve commonly called a ‘dual-persona device’…Essentially [it] means you can have voice at official and at secret.”
The iPhone 7 will now replace Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, which was originally selected for the project. Bunn explained that the replacement had to be made as security in the Samsung model was found to be inadequate – “As more and more development and testing was done the security wasn’t deemed to be sufficient.”
Derek Stretch, BT business development director, added that a further contributing factor to Apple’s selection was that the iPhone 7 already enjoys wide usage within the UK armed forces, and will make deploying the units easier for both support teams and users.
Controversially, iOS security has long forced federal agencies to take measures to weaken its encryption. Particular debate was sparked in the U.S following the San Bernardino shootings when the FBI was initially unable to unlock an Apple device involved in the attack.
Despite these calls from the government, privacy campaigns have remained in full support of Apple. In December 2016, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee released a report in which it observed ‘any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest.’
Since publishing, BT has provided the following statement: “We would like to clarify that the MoD has not expressed any views about the suitability of dual-persona technology from specific handset/technology vendors and is prototyping a range of devices.”