Apple Inc. is a U.S.-based international corporation that produces and sells consumer electronics, such as personal computers, smartphones, and digital media players. As of 2015, the total value of Apple’s stock was more than $700 billion, making it the largest publicly traded corporation in the world. The increasing popularity of Apple’s products, in particular its mobile devices, has made it a growing target of cybercriminals and has increased concerns over the security of users’ personal data. This entry first highlights the history of Apple Inc. and follows this with a discussion about device users’ security and privacy concerns and some criticisms leveled against Apple regarding the protection of its consumers’ data.


Apple was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne to build and sell personal computer kits to hobbyists. Wozniak designed and built the company’s first product, the Apple I computer, which was hand assembled in homemade wooden cases and sold in a local computer store for $666.66 when it debuted. When Apple incorporated in the following year, Wayne sold back his share of the company to his partners for $800.

The Apple II computer, which Jobs and Wozniak showcased at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire, went on to become one of the most successful mass-produced home computers. More than 5 million Apple II computers were built during its 17-year production run. The first spreadsheet computer program, VisiCalc, was originally released for the Apple II and made the computer popular in the business sector. The Apple II was also aggressively marketed to the education market, causing it to become the first computer in widespread use in U.S. schools.

Apple has consistently marketed itself as a uniquely creative alternative to contemporary competitors like IBM. The first Macintosh (“Mac”) personal computer was introduced by Apple to the U.S. public with the now iconic “1984” television commercial. The advertisement was directed by filmmaker Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) and featured an athletic woman running through an Orwellian dystopia, ending with her smashing an image of Big Brother with a sledgehammer. The “1984” advertisement was run before a national audience during Super Bowl XVIII and was subsequently pulled from broadcast due to legal action on behalf of George Orwell’s estate. Although “1984” was run only twice, it is considered to be a turning point in the marketing industry and recognized as one of the greatest advertisements of all time.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Apple controlled a progressively smaller market share in the personal computer industry, in part due to the relative expense of its products. The corporation purchased multiple software companies during this time to build recognition as the platform of choice in digital media production. In the 2000s, Apple continued to experiment with additional consumer electronics lines such as portable audio devices, mobile phones, and tablet computers. Apple also opened its online digital media purchasing service, the iTunes Store, in 2003, and by 2010 the service had become the largest music vendor in the world.

Security and Privacy

Consumers began to gain access to the Internet during a time when Apple controlled a comparatively small portion of the personal computer market. As Microsoft dominated the operating system market at the time, malware written by cybercriminals was frequently designed to exploit Windows-based computers and had little to no effect on Apple’s Mac OS. This was due in part to Apple using a proprietary, UNIX-based operating system on its consumer electronics. Apple continues to enjoy a reputation for customer security and privacy to this day as a consequence of representing a small, exploit-resistant portion of the personal computer market. Malware that targets Apple software does exist, such as the iWorm botnet, discovered in October 2014. Apple has taken a low-key approach to combating known security exploits with the inclusion of XProtect antimalware software as part of its operating system. This software quietly runs in the background on Apple products and is continuously automatically updated with protective measures against newly identified security vulnerabilities.

Although Apple still controls a relatively small portion of the global personal computer market, the corporation’s products dominate the smartphone and tablet computer industry. This has made Apple’s operating system for mobile products, iOS, an attractive target for security exploits. In 2011, Apple introduced iCloud, a remote backup service for consumer data such as contact details and photos, which has proven to be an additional desirable target for cybercriminals. Customers manage their accounts with a single user ID (“Apple ID”) and password for all Apple-based services. When an Apple ID has been compromised, information such as the customer’s private data and payment details such as credit card numbers may be accessed. As a result, Apple has endured several high-profile security breaches related to these popular mobile services.


Apple has occasionally drawn criticism from the security technologies industry for an allegedly lax attitude toward patching known software vulnerabilities. The fix for a security flaw identified in 2009 for Sun Microsystem’s Java platform was not distributed to Apple’s customers for more than 5 months.

In 2010, a grey hat hacker organization calling itself Goatse Security discovered a vulnerability for Apple iPads running on the AT&T 3G network. Goatse Security, headed by Andrew “weev” Auernheimer and Daniel “JacksonBrown” Spitler, attempted to leak information about the exploit to mass media organizations and gain attention for the handling of security flaws. Subsequently, Auernheimer and Spitler were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and subjected to criminal prosecution in 2012 for identity fraud and conspiracy to access a computer without authorization. The case against Auernheimer and Spitler sparked debates in the hacking community over ethical considerations when revealing similar “zero-day exploits.” Spitler pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation in exchange for his testimony against his partner. Auernheimer was found guilty and sentenced to 3 years and 5 months in prison. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 2014.

In June 2013, National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden included Apple on a list of companies cooperating with its PRISM program. PRISM is a clandestine data mining program that uses mass surveillance of electronic data for the stated purpose of combating terrorism. Although the U.S. government acknowledges the existence of PRISM, Apple has publicly denied participation in the program and maintains that it does not provide customer data to government agencies without a court order.

Apple was the target of criticism in August 2014 when a large collection of private celebrity photos was made available on public Internet image boards. The event, referred to by the media as “the Fappening,” included hundreds of intimate and nude photos believed to have originated from celebrity accounts with Apple’s iCloud service. Apple confirmed that the leaked images originated from specifically targeted iCloud accounts rather than from a security flaw in the service itself. The incident has increased discussion by security analysts with respect to the nature of cloud computing and inherent vulnerability to breaches of privacy.

Christine J. Champion and Richard McCleary

See also Cloud Computing ; Cybertheft ; Dataveillance ; Global Surveillance ; Information Security ; National Security Agency Leaks ; Smartphones ; Technology

Further Readings

Behl, A. and K. Behl. “An Analysis of Cloud Computing Security Issues.” In Proceedings of the 2012 World Conference on Information and Communication Technologies, Trivandrum, India, October– November 2012.

Grimes, G. A. “Are Apple’s Security Measures Sufficient to Protect Its Mobile Devices?” In Proceedings of the 2012 Wireless Telecommunications Symposium (WTS 2012), London, England, April 18– 20, 2012.

Hoog, A. and K. Strzempka. iPhone and iOS Forensics: Investigation, Analysis and Mobile Security for Apple iPhone, iPad and iOS Devices. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier, 2011.

Kaspersky Lab. “Unveiling ‘Careto’: The Masked APT” (February 2014). (Accessed November 2014).

Olson, Parmy. We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of Lulzsec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency. London, England: William Heinemann, 2012.

Seriot, Nicholas. iPhone Privacy. Arlington, VA: Black Hat DC, 2010.

Sipior, Janice C., et al. “Privacy Concerns Associated With Smartphone Use.” Journal of Internet Commerce, v.13/3–4 (2014).

United States v. Auernheimer. (Accessed October 2014).