Was Apple employee behind major iPhone leaks?

It’s one thing when an employee who’s testing a phone prototype gets tipsy and leaves it behind in a bar. That can happen to any company. It might even happen twice.

However, some observers suspect a recent round of leaks reportedly including product names and features of Apple’s new iPhones suggests something more sinister is going on.

Influential Apple commentator John Gruber took to his Daring Fireball site on Saturday to suggest these alleged secrets weren’t leaving Cupertino’s very tight security because of carelessness.

“I’m nearly certain this wasn’t a mistake,” he wrote, “but rather a deliberate malicious act by a rogue Apple employee.”

“As best I’ve been able to ascertain, these builds were available to download by anyone, but they were obscured by long, unguessable URLs [web addresses],” wrote John Gruber, a blogger known for his coverage of Apple.

“Someone within Apple leaked the list of URLs to 9to5Mac and MacRumors. I’m nearly certain this wasn’t a mistake, but rather a deliberate malicious act by a rogue Apple employee.”

Neither Mr Gruber nor the two Apple-related news sites have disclosed their sources.

The company has been doubly determined in recent times to seal the potential for leaks. Earlier this year, however, a recording emerged of an internal discussion about, well, leaks.

Gruber believes Apple simply wouldn’t be so blasé as to leave the information visible to anyone with a computer. Instead, he says the GM (Golden Master) builds of the iPhone’s operating software — the final versions ready to go to developers — were stored in a public database, but only accessible via “long, unguessable URLs.”

He takes an extremely dark view of the consequences.

“Whoever did this is the least popular person in Cupertino,” he said. “More surprises were spoiled by this leak than any leak in Apple history.”

Many would like to believe this isn’t so. They’d like to hope that this is all part of an elaborate Apple disinformation package, designed to make Tuesday even more of a show.

However, if there is some resentful killjoy element lurking within Apple, you can bet the company’s security services will be extremely active in rooting it out.

Several developers are still scouring the leak for new features, but discoveries so far include:

  • a reference to iPhone X, which acts as fresh evidence that Apple intends to unveil a high-end model alongside more modest updates to its handset line
  • images of a new Apple Watch and AirPod headphones
  • a set-up process for Face ID – an alternative to the Touch ID system fingerprint system – that says it can be used to unlock handsets and make online purchases from Apple, among other uses
  • the introduction of Animoji – animated emoji characters that mirror a user’s captured facial expressions

It marks the second time in three months that the company seems to have been deliberately caught out by a staff member.

In June, an hour-long recording of an internal meeting – ironically about stopping leakers – was passed onto the Outline news site.

It revealed that Apple had hired ex-workers from the US National Security Agency (NSA), FBI and Secret Service to help catch tattletales.

“I have faith deep in my soul that if we hire smart people they’re gonna think about this, they’re gonna understand this, and ultimately they’re gonna do the right thing, and that’s to keep their mouth shut,” one senior Apple executive was heard to say.

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