The CIA led sophisticated intelligence agency efforts to undermine the encryption used in Apple phones, as well as insert secret surveillance back doors into apps, top-secret documents published by the Intercept online news site have revealed.
The newly disclosed documents from the National Security Agency’s internal systems show surveillance methods were presented at its secret annual conference, known as the “jamboree”.
The most serious of the various attacks disclosed at the event was the creation of a dummy version of Apple’s development software Xcode, which is used by developers to create apps for iOS devices.
The modified version of Xcode would allow the CIA, NSA or other agencies to insert surveillance backdoors into any app created using the compromised development software. The revelation has already provoked a strong backlash among security researchers on Twitter and elsewhere, and is likely to prompt security audits among Apple developers.
The latest revelations of sustained hacking efforts against Apple devices are set to further strain already difficult relations between the technology company and the US government.
Apple had previously been a partner in the Prism programme, in effect a legal backdoor to obtain user information by the NSA and its allies, but in the wake of the Snowden revelations it has stepped up efforts to protect user privacy, including introducing end-to-end encryption on iMessages.