In December last year, two shooters attacked a community center in San Bernardino, California. FBI Director James Comey told a Senate committee, earlier this month, that law-enforcement officials are still unable to get past the locking feature on an Apple iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the attackers.
Comey stood before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on the 1st March 2016, outlining the potential dangers of encryption and prevention of access for authorities: “We are seeing more and more cases where we believe significant evidence resides on a phone, a tablet, or a laptop—evidence that may be the difference between an offender being convicted or acquitted,” he stated. “If we cannot access this evidence, it will have ongoing, significant impacts on our ability to identify, stop, and prosecute these offenders.”
"The growing use of encryption both to lock devices when they sit there and to cover communications … is actually overwhelmingly affecting law enforcement."
- James Comey, FBI Director
According to a post made by Apple, the data requested by the FBI has been provided: “Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.”
The company has since revealed that the FBI requested that the tech giant make a new version of the iPhone operating system, which circumvents several security features: “The U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”
“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”
Anti-virus program pioneer and U.S. presidential candidate John McAfee, claimed that unlocking Syed Farook’s iPhone was a “trivial” exercise, stating that it should take the FBI just 30 minutes to complete. On live television, McAfee promised to eat his own shoe if he was unable to unlock the phone within two weeks.
The anti-virus pioneer stated that there was no real reason for tech companies to provide backdoors for devices: "The US public doesn't need a Digital Security Commission; they need the FBI to stop deceiving everyone and tell the truth that it wants to spy on Americans."
Inspired by these recent events, Team Daniel Bruno are baiting the best hackers in the world to crack what they’ve called John McAfee SwiftMail, and the cryptocurrency that powers the software, Swiftcoin.
SwiftCoin was first developed in 2012. It’s a peer-to-peer, proof of work based digital currency, that combines a Bitcoin style blockchain with Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). This data encryption and decryption computer program is able to provide high-level privacy and authentication for data communication.
Team Daniel Bruno applied this technology to their secure email system, SwiftMail, which uses an address that is similar to a bitcoin wallet. However, instead of storing funds or transactions, it stores messages. The software uses 0.001 SwiftCoin to send mail and attachments to any device running Android, Windows or Ubuntu software.
This application can benefit those concerned about the origin of an email received, or whether a third party is rifling through attachments.
“Why on earth would we believe that if we're not doing anything wrong, we shouldn't care if someone has our information?”
There are a number of other services that have taken a similar approach. In 2012, Bitmessage was conceived by software developer Jonathan Warren, who also based his design on bitcoin’s blockchain.
Bitmessage embodies many of the characteristics found in Bitcoin, it’s a decentralized, encrypted, peer-to-peer, trustless protocol. It can be used by a single person to send encrypted messages to another individual, or to multiple subscribers.
Each user's’ message inbox is encrypted using public-key cryptography, and mixes the information with other inboxes to conceal the user's identity. According to the company, this prevents eavesdropping. The software experienced a surge of new users in 2013, after Edward Snowden released confidential documents revealing the National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on Americans.
“The US government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers including AT&T, has engaged in massive, illegal dragnet surveillance of the domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001.”
Based in Israel, GetGems is another example of a messaging platform leveraging blockchain technology. CEO Daniel Peled established GetGems in 2014, as a social messaging app that allows users to send cryptocurrencies.
The GetGems team partnered with Telegram in July last year, which lent the ability to use features such as an end-to-end encryption function, leading to a feature called “secret chats.”
“Data is encrypted with a key that only you and the recipient know. There is no way for us or anybody else without direct access to your device to learn what content is being sent in those messages.”
The secret chats are neither stored on Telegram’s servers nor logged. “After a short period of time we no longer know who or when you messaged via secret chats. For the same reasons secret chats are not available in the cloud — you can only access those messages from the device they were sent to or from,” states Telegram.
In addition, messages can also be ordered to self-destruct, “As soon as such a message is read (2 checks appear), the countdown starts. When the time is out, both devices participating in a secret chat are instructed to delete the message (photo, video, etc.),” reads the Telegram website.
Team Daniel Bruno have offered US$10,000 to qualifying hackers that can break their system. Applicants are required to identify themselves to the SwiftMail site. They can then execute the attack and either reveal the contents of SwiftMail or steal SwiftCoin and show how it was achieved.
John McAfee is also able to take the challenge. A running bet is taking place on the Bitcoin Free Casino on the probability of success. Payouts can be made in either bitcoin or SwiftCoin. The offer expires 1st April 2016.