NSA, Apple chiefs at odds over cyber security access

By Doug G. Ware  |  Updated Oct. 20, 2015 at 7:51 PM
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LAGUNA BEACH, Calif., Oct. 20 (UPI) -- The heads of the National Security Agency and Apple Inc. took the stage within minutes of each other at the WSJD Live technology conference in southern California this week -- but both delivered markedly different messages regarding security in the face of looming cyber threats.

NSA chief Admiral Michael Rogers spoke first, and said he has grave concerns about the present state of cyber security. In his view, it's only a matter of time before someone carries out a major cyber attack that causes substantial damage to the United States.

In addition to leading the NSA, Rogers also serves as the Commander of the United States Cyber Command -- a sub-unified armed forces unit that organizes existing cyber resources and synchronizes defense of U.S. military networks. He is also Chief of the Central Security Service.

"Is there anybody out there who is comfortable with the situation we are living in today in this regard?" Rogers asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "This is just not a good place for us as a nation."

As a result, Rogers believes, there ought to be some access to users' data stored on communication devices for intelligence agencies to search and detect potential threats -- data that is strongly encrypted to add a layer of insulation so just anyone can't obtain the information.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, who took the stage after Rogers, didn't exactly see eye-to-eye with that assessment from the NSA boss.

While Cook agrees that major cyber threats exist, he feels that a "no back door" policy for intelligence agencies -- which would keep organizations like Rogers' NSA from being able to mine user data -- is the right way to go, mainly because it's in-step with fully protecting consumers' privacy.

"[The government is] saying, '[We] are good, so it's okay for [us] to know,'" Cook said. "But that's not the state of today. If someone can get into data, it is subject to great abuse."

Cook also said encryption is necessary to protect user data from falling into the wrong hands -- but indicated that there is no way to ensure only potential threats will have their data inspected.

"I think we would all agree that if there was a way to expose only bad people, whoever the determiner of what bad is, that would be a great thing. But this is not the world," Cook said. "No one should have to decide, privacy or security, we should be smart enough to do both."

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