iMessage encryption was one reason why Secret Service lost January 6 texts, may prevent employees from using iMessage in future

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iMessage encryption was one reason why Secret Service lost January 6 texts, may prevent employees from using iMessage in future

In the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots, the Secret Service has been blasted for losing text messages sent around that time about the attack, potentially violating federal record preservation laws.

Via Politico, the Secret Service says one reason why this happened was that the automatic backup systems the Secret Service used could not access iMessages, as they are stored encrypted on the phone.

What appears to have happened is the Secret Service was transitioning to a new mobile device management and deployment system. This system would automatically store and backup data in a centralized location, such as emails and photos.

However, iMessage is stored on device in an encrypted fashion in a manner that the centralized system cannot access.

Instead, individuals would have to remember to manually backup their devices before their phones were reset, in order for iMessages to be saved. Evidently, many agents failed to do this and when their phones were wiped, all of their iMessage communications were deleted. (The political irony of course is the agency in charge of running complex forensive cybercrime investigations cannot be trusted to keep its own records complete).

The agency is now considering disabling iMessage entirely on agents’ devices to prevent this from happening in future (for context, iMessage is already banned in the White House). The agency is also weighing other options.

“We want to make sure whatever policy action we take does not adversely impact our protective or investigative missions,” Guglielmi said. He added that the Secret Service is “looking at other technological solutions.” He did not provide further details.

via Politico

It is unclear how much agents used iMessage for relevant work communications about the January 6 riots. However, it is also worth noting that iMessage is not the only factor at play. Standard SMS text messages may also have been lost, due to technical and organisational failures.

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