Apple’s iMessage Can Cause Problems when Issuing Employees iPhones


iMessage iNo

The Technology and Marketing Law Blog recently had a post describing an employer lawsuit that included privacy infringement based claims against an employer for intercepting iMessages using his company supplied iPhone. Although the California Court ultimately rejected the claim, it had an interesting fact pattern that raises concerns for attorneys and employers.

The employee in the claim had been issued an iPhone from his employer. Upon being issued the iPhone, he associated the phone with his personal Apple iCloud account and enabled Apple’s iMessage. iMessage, unlike standard SMS text messages, allows sending and receiving text messages without an active cellular number. This means that if you register your cellular number with iMessage, your Apple account will allow you to send and receive iMessages on other devices with a broadband connection, even if you have no cellular connection. When you switch to a different cell phone (even if it is another iPhone), you must disable iMessages, or else your old iPhone will continue to receive iMessages if it is on a WiFi network, or another cellular account is registered with it.

The problem is that after the employee’s employment ended, he returned his company issued iPhone, and did not wipe the device or disable iMessages. The employee claims that his former employer continued to receive and review his text messages since his Apple iMessage account was not disabled. The California Court ultimately decided that the employee had no privacy claim against his former employer.

The reason that I found this case interesting, is because I am sure that there are plenty of attorneys in Delaware that are issued iPhones and/or iPads by their employers. This immediately causes concerns for me about employees taking steps to make sure that their data cannot be accessed once they leave their current employment. If you have linked a personal Apple iCloud account to your iPhone or iPad, some of your data created after starting a new job, may be accessed by a former employer. Both messages sent and received by iMessage, as well as any data stored in iCloud, may continued to be accessed on the old device until the Apple iCloud account is removed or your password is changed.

If you are currently using iMessages and iCloud on your employer-issued iPhone or iPad, you will want to make sure that you sever any connection before your employment ends. If you do not, there is a chance that text messages you receive in new employment may be intercepted by a former employer. If you are an employer issuing iPhones or iPads, you will want to have a clear policy on the type of personal information and accounts permitted on a company issued iDevice. Even for an employer, concerns arise that after an employee is terminated, information that was saved to iCloud (like documents created in Pages or Keynote) may continue to be available to former employees. For a managing partner at a law firm you need to know how confidential materials are being stored.

I would recommend not using iCloud and iMessage on any employer supplied iPad or iPhone. Although this eliminates some of the benefits of these services, it protects both an employee and employer from the concern of confidential information being accessed after the employment relationship has ended. Beyond the concern of private personal data being accessed, if an attorney has an old iPhone/iPad that is still receiving data from iCloud that can potentially be accessed by a former employer, there is a very real chance of violating your obligations under Rules 1.1 and 1.6 of the Delaware Rules of Professional Conduct. If you do use iMessage or iCloud, and you are not able to disable these services when employment is terminated, it is important that you immediately change your iCloud password to protect your data. Changing your password should protect you against a former employer accessing documents and data that apps store in iCloud. You should also contact Apple Support to have your old phone number deregistered from iMessage.

See Sunbelt Rentals, Inc v. Victor for the California District Court Decision.


Serious Flaws Discovered in Apple iCloud Backup Security

Recently I posted an article explaining why attorneys should be concerned about the recent iCloud celebrity photo breach. At the time that I posted the article, details were just coming out about how these individuals had their confidential materials leaked. Since then, the leading theory has been that the celebrities had their iCloud iPhone backups accessed by malicious users using tools originally developed for law enforcement purposes. Christina Warren of Mashable recently posted a great article explaining just how easily she was able to hack her own iCloud backup. I recommend that all attorneys read her post to see just how easy some of this information can be obtained.  

My recommendation based on the events of the past week is that attorneys should not store confidential materials on iCloud until Apple makes the online service more secure. If you backup your iPhone or iPad using iTunes, you have the option of encrypting your backup with a separate password (that can and should be different from your iTunes password). Unfortunately this option is not available for iCloud backups. Without a second-factor authentication option or a separate encryption password for your online backups, a malicious user would only need to determine your iCloud password to access all your backed up data.


You can turn off iCloud backup by going into your iOS settings and choosing iCloud. Within the initial iCloud settings you can choose Storage & Backup to choose whether to enable iCloud Backup. Within that settings panel simply disable iCloud backup to turn it of on your device.


If you have other iOS devices, choose Manage Storage and from there you can delete backups from iCloud. You also should be careful that you understand what other apps on your device may be using iCloud to store data. To determine this, choose Documents & Data from within the initial iCloud settings. This will give you a list of apps that are storing data on iCloud. If you keep confidential client data within any of these apps, you may want to disable the ability of these apps to store documents and data in iCloud.


It is important to remember that these recommendations are only if you have confidential information on your device. If you do choose to disable iCloud backups, it is important that you plug your device into your computer and backup using iTunes on a regular basis (and select the encryption option in iTunes). Email account passwords are not stored on the iCloud backup, so do not worry about this information being at risk if you do choose to use iCloud backup.

I am hoping that with the attention this has been receiving in the press that Apple quickly offers options to better secure iCloud in the near future. In the meantime, it is important that you at least understand what data on your device is being uploaded to the cloud and that you know if it is adequately protected.

Update: According to 9 to 5 Mac, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has issued a statement promising that Apple will enable new notifications in the next two weeks to address some of the concerns discussed above. Notably individuals will begin to receive emails when a password is changed, when a backup is restored to a new device, when a device logs into iCloud for the first time, and users will be able to use two factor authentication for iCloud when iOS 8 is released. It is nice that Apple is promising quick improvements to better secure user’s data.

Read Christina Warren’s How I Hacked My Own iCloud Account, for Just $200

Celebrity iCloud Image Breach and Client Confidentiality

iCloud ConfidentialityI recently posted a new article on about Client Confidentiality in light of the recent iCloud celebrity image leak that occurred over this past weekend. iCloud is a service offered by Apple that is available on every current iPhone and iPad that allows certain data on your device to be stored in the cloud. Over the weekend, it was reported that about 100 different celebrities had personal images accessed that were being stored using Apple’s iCloud service.

It is suspected that these photos were accessed by malicious users using a brute-force attack to guess passwords of the accounts affected. It appears that the only reason they were successful in the attack is because the accounts were using simple passwords, and that Apple did not lock accounts after a certain number of unsuccessful login attempts. 

In the article on, it is explained why this should be a concern to individuals in the legal community that use cloud services for storage of confidential cloud information. I suggest that attorneys take a look at revised Rule 1.6 and the comments to that rule, and determine if they would have committed an ethical violation if confidential client information had been accessed from their account using this same attack.  

Steve Butler PhotoThis post was written by Steven Butler. Steven is a full-time Delaware attorney that limits his practice to Social Security Disability. Along with being a contributor for iPlugDelaware, he is a partner at Linarducci & Butler, PA.

Forensic Scientist Reveals Backdoor in iOS that allows Access to Encrypted Data


UPDATE: Apple has responded that the processes identified by Zdziarski are there only for diagnostic purposes. Rene Ritchie at iMore has clarified that what Zdziarski has actually discussed is dependent on “Trust Relationships”. When you plug in your iPhone or iPad to a computer, you are prompted to “Trust this computer”. The information on your device is only accessible if that type of trust agreement has been created between your device and some hardware (usually your computer). Zdziarski is concerned about the ability for a third party to steal the pairing records created when you trust a computer, or spoofing your iPhone or iPad into creating a “Trust Relationship” with hardware like a public USB charger.

ZDNet has an alarming article detailing a recent security talk from Jonathan Zdziarski revealing backdoors that exist in iOS that he suggests that Apple created with the purpose of making secure data available to law enforcement. He suggests that this can be done through USB, WiFi, or possibly even cellular. Although this would allow Apple to obtain personal data off your device, he couldn’t find a way that it could be used to restore data. He concludes that the only purpose could be to pull data off for other purposes than to help the customer.

The only truly secure state for the phone, according to Jonathan Zdziarski, is password-protected and powered off.  A very interesting and eye-opening read. (PLEASE SEE UPDATE WITH APPLE RESPONSE AT BEGINNING OF POST!)

iOS 7.1.2 Update Available to Patch Email Attachment Encryption Bug

If you are using an iPad or iPhone, it is time to fire up your Settings app again and do a software update. Apple has released iOS 7.1.2 which patches a bug that left attachments to your email without encryption. This means that if your password protected device was plugged into a desktop computer, any email attachments would be available without the normal encryption.

Although this is a relatively small bug for most, those in the legal community could face dire consequences if documents attached to your email could be easily accessed from a lost or stolen device. As always, this update is available over the air by going into settings, then general, and finally Software Update. Before updating it is important to have a backup of your device. I always recommend plugging into a computer and doing a local backup, but at least make sure your device has been backed up to iCloud recently.

Some users have experienced problems of their device freezing during installation. Redmond Pie has an article suggesting how to reset your device if you experience this issue.


Supreme Court Rules that Police Need Warrant to Search iPhones


The US Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Riley v. California today indicating that law enforcement must have a warrant to search cell-phone content of a person that has been arrested. The petitioner in the case was stopped for a traffic violation that eventually led to an arrest on weapons charges. After being arrested, a police officer seized the defendant’s cell phone and accessed photographs and videos that were used to charge him with a shooting that occurred a few weeks earlier. The Supreme Court found that generally, without a warrant, law enforcement may not search digital information stored on a cell phone of an individual that has been arrested. The Court determined that the Fourth amendment exception that allowed police to search property found on or near an arrestee does not apply for cell phones. It was decided that digital data stored on a cell phone does not present risks to officer safety or present risk of evidence destruction (it noted that law enforcement has some technologies to prevent remote wiping to combat the potential loss of evidence). The Court noted that exigent circumstances exceptions to the Fourth amendment would still apply in case-specific situations. The reasoning behind the decision was that substantial privacy interests are at stake when digital data is involved, and that this is not comparable to inventorying personal items. The Court explained that cell phones have an immense storage capacity and prior searches of a person was limited by physical realities that individual could only carry a small number items. The difference is with a cell phone a person can “store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos”. Further a search of a cell phone could also include data from remote servers which would extend well beyond papers and effects in the proximity of an arrested individual. It was acknowledged that the decision would have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime, but it was noted that information could still be obtained from a cell phone with valid warrant, and partly due to today’s technology, warrants can be obtained with “increasing efficiency”. This decision represents a win for personal privacy, but a potential setback to over-engrossing law enforcement actions. It is great to see that this was a unanimous decision that clearly defines for both law enforcement and the general public of the expectations of privacy when cell phone are involved. This will be a very important decision in the practice of law. It is important to note that the Court did not rest its decision on whether or not the phone was locked, and this means that protection even would apply if an individual has not password secured their device.

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