The U.S. Governing administration Built a Leading-Key iPod

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Photos)

Back in 2005, just before the Iphone, Apple purportedly aided a U.S. Department of Vitality contractor modify a 5th-generation iPod to secretly report and retail store details. The exact reason why continues to be a secret, but an ex-Apple engineer included in the task thinks it could have been a surreptitious Geiger counter.

This bonkers tale comes courtesy of David Shayer, a former Apple application engineer who was with the organization for 18 many years and worked on gadgets these kinds of as the iPod and Apple Observe. Shayer, who wrote the story for TidBITS, recounts a “gray working day in late 2005” when his boss’s boss, the director of iPod software, told him that he was assigned to a prime-mystery venture with two engineers from the U.S. Office of Power to establish a “special iPod.”

In actuality, the two engineers have been from Bechtel, a U.S. protection contractor for the DOE. The ask for was to make a typical, performing iPod that could also secretly history details on to custom made components. In other text, some spy-level shit. At the time, the iPod was not a specifically quick gadget to modify. Which is since in accordance to Shayer, the iPod’s functioning process was not centered on any other Apple operating method. As an alternative, it was based mostly on a “reference system Apple acquired from a company called Portal Player” and cobbled alongside one another with code from Pixo, a business started out by previous Apple engineers who wrote a “general-reason cell mobile phone operating program.” TLDR—the iPod OS was complicated, and there wasn’t an effortless way to determine out how it worked without the need of help from Apple.

All through Shayer’s tale, it’s evident that secrecy was paramount. Shayer fundamentally shepherded the two Bechtel engineers—Paul and Matthew—through the approach but claimed Apple did not supply any components or software. Likewise, although Shayer gave them the applications they needed to figure out how to build the machine, he suggests he under no circumstances noticed the personalized hardware Paul and Matthew included to their modified iPod. When it came time to figure out how to disguise the recorded details, Shayer suggested they produce a hidden partition so that if everyone plugged the key iPod into a computer system, “iTunes would deal with it as a regular iPod and it would glimpse like regular iPod in the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer.”

At Apple, Shayer says, no file was held of the project, and only four men and women, such as Shayer, knew about it at all. (None of the 4 nonetheless functions at Apple.) As for what the system was employed for… no a single essentially knows. Shayer believes it was probably a kind of Geiger counter DOE agents could use to surreptitiously file radioactivity stages although appearing to listen to tunes.

It’s not terribly surprising that the U.S. government could possibly solution a significant tech corporation for aid with this form of factor. There are causes why executives at these businesses usually have a governing administration safety clearance—and Steve Employment was no exception. Although it is not distinct why Employment was given best security clearance, Wired notes that it could have experienced something to do with his get the job done at Pixar, which was contracted by intelligence businesses for rendering reconnaissance flight and satellite info working with its Pixar Image Computer system.

Although we may perhaps never know what that customized iPod was employed for, thanks to Shayer’s story—which is truthfully a fantastic read—we do know it existed. If that’s not fodder for Apple conspiracy theories, I do not know what is.

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