Chinese company can now break AirDrop encryption, state government claims
A China-based company now has the ability to break the encryption surrounding Apple's AirDrop feature, according to a statement from China's Justice Bureau.
Why it matters: China-based law enforcement officials say they've already been able to identify a person who shared a video while on the Beijing subway "with inappropriate remarks" using the popular file transfer tool, per an English translation of the statement.
- Multiple other suspects "involved in the case" have also been identified.
The big picture: AirDrop has become a key tool for protesters in China advocating for democracy.
- In 2019, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong used AirDrop to share information about the events using AirDrop to evade police detection.
- Protesters in Beijing also used AirDrop to spread pro-democracy messages to others while on subway cars in 2022.
- In 2022, Apple placed a 10-minute cap for people to receive an AirDrop file in China in response to protesters' use.
Between the lines: AirDrop allows protestors to bypass traditional government interventions — such as internet shutdowns — because it operates on wireless connections between phone signals, instead of internet networks.
- This has made it difficult for government authorities to identify who is using AirDrop, until this week's encryption announcement.
Details: Law enforcement handed several iPhones over to China-based company Wangshendongjian Technology to study how the owners used the AirDrop function to share images, videos and other files.
- Wangshendongjian Technology's forensics experts analyzed AirDrop records to create a so-called "rainbow table" — a go-to password hacking tool — to read the hashed values stored in these devices and decipher the phone numbers and email addresses associated with the senders, according to the Justice Bureau's statement.
- AirDrop is used across all Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads and Macs.
- Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Yes, but: China is known to spread disinformation to discredit dissidents and nation-state adversaries.
- Last year, China-backed researchers also claimed that they now had a powerful enough quantum computer that could break modern-day encryption standards — although U.S. experts have questioned the merits of those claims.