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iOS 10 Kernel Code Is Not Encrypted

Tom Simonite, writing for the MIT Technology Review:

Some security experts who inspected that new version of iOS got a big surprise.

They found that Apple had not obscured the workings of the heart of its operating system using encryption as the company has done before. Crucial pieces of the code destined to power millions of iPhones and iPads were laid bare for all to see. That would aid anyone looking for security weaknesses in Apple’s flagship software.

Security experts say the famously secretive company may have adopted a bold new strategy intended to encourage more people to report bugs in its software — or perhaps made an embarrassing mistake. Apple declined to comment on why it didn’t follow its usual procedure.

Rene Ritchie:

My understanding is that the reason was something else entirely: Streamlining the operating system.

Since it contains only the kernel, device drivers, and configuration files — and absolutely no user data — the iOS 10 kernel cache can be left unencrypted without any concerns over security or privacy.

Rene’s understanding of things is usually very well-informed. This strikes me as highly unlikely to be a mistake.

Update: Just got this from an Apple spokesperson:

“The kernel cache doesn’t contain any user info, and by unencrypting it we’re able to optimize the operating system’s performance without compromising security.”

So: definitely not a mistake.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016