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The Technology at the Heart of the Apple-FBI Debate, Explained

Chris Soghoian,
Principal Technologist and Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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February 29, 2016

This was originally published by The Washington Post.

What if the FBI could force Samsung to covertly turn on the video camera in your smart TV? Or force Google to deliver a malicious security update to your web browser which actually spied on you and transmitted your passwords and other sensitive information back to the FBI? Sound like something from a dystopian sci-fi movie? If Apple loses its high-profile legal fight with the US government, these scenarios could become a reality. This will also threaten the security of all Internet users.

Until relatively recently, consumers were often nagged to look for and download software updates. This is something that many of us didn’t do, promptly, or often, at all. As a result, many people ran out-of-date, insecure software, leaving them unnecessarily vulnerable to cyber attacks and computer viruses.

In an effort to get prompt security updates to as many consumers and businesses as possible, the software industry has largely shifted to a model of automatic updates. As a result, our phones, computers and Internet of Things devices (such as thermostats and smart TVs) now regularly call their makers to look for updates, which are then automatically downloaded and installed.

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