Not so long ago the media widely discussed the deciphering of the encrypted iPhone of a terrorist in the United States. Apple said it was impossible to decrypt.

The iPhone was encrypted, and Apple told that they cannot decrypt user data. But there are an iOS and an App store systems for updates. If they can work, why Apple could not get the data?
Was this statement true or not?

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    you are assuming that the core OS is encrypted and/or that update occur when the user has not unlocked the device – schroeder Aug 21 '17 at 11:45
  • Are you aware that different devices employ encrypted file systems differently? It might help if you narrowed your question. Have you done any research? apple.com/business/docs/iOS_Security_Guide.pdf – schroeder Aug 21 '17 at 11:48
  • Also, what does sending the iOS version have to do with a reduction in security or the protection of 'secrets'? – schroeder Aug 21 '17 at 11:50
  • Basically Apple encrypts the update with the same key as the disc so on reboot it can decrypt both and deploy in a secure manner. – LvB Aug 21 '17 at 11:52
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    Do Apple devices update without user interaction? Do updates happen because they are pushed from Apple, or are they pulled from the device. And, either way, your logic does not flow. – schroeder Aug 21 '17 at 16:52

The data itself is encrypted. The OS and updates do not store the necessary information to decrypt the data, but rather require some form of user input to unlock it. Without this input, the device doesn't have the necessary information to access the data on the device.

Depending on the way Apple has setup the phone, it is possible that the main body of the OS itself resides in a non-encrypted partition or it is possible they encrypt the main OS as well and only leave a boot-loader unencrypted that knows how to take the credentials in and decrypt the rest.

The exact mechanisms vary by device and OS between different ways of encrypting drives, but the basic principle remains the same. Without the password, the data needed to decrypt the drive doesn't exist on the device.


On Android at least, there are three areas that are relevant to booting:

  • The kernel and initial RAM FS (initramfs) that start immediately after the bootloader. This sets up hardware, detects filesystems and starts your phone
  • The system partition, that has the entire operating system.
  • The data partition, which is encrypted.

The first two are unencrypted, and if the phone has not been rooted/unlocked, only trusted updates from the vendor can be applied. The bootloader and recovery system enforce this, typically using digital signatures. As such, they can be updated without needing to be decrypted first.

The data partition does not need to be available unencrypted for system/ROM updates to be applied. Since these are read-only during the phone's normal operation, the contents are both well-known (anyone can inspect the contents of updates) and cannot be written to, so will not hold any secrets.

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