Apple helped United States turn iPods into possible stealth Geiger counters

Joanna Estrada
August 20, 2020

Apple reportedly helped the USA government develop a "top secret" iPod, back in 2005, that worked like a normal one but secretly recorded data using hidden extra hardware inside.

Shayer, one of the early software engineers hired to work on the first iPod, said he was sitting at his desk in 2005 when his boss's boss at Apple (AAPL) asked him to take on a "special assignment" for the company.

"They wanted to add some custom hardware to an iPod and record data from this custom hardware to the iPod's disk in a way that couldn't be easily detected", he wrote. When it came time to figure out how to hide the recorded data, Shayer suggested they create a hidden partition so that if anyone plugged the secret iPod into a computer, "iTunes would treat it as a normal iPod and it would look like normal iPod in the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer".

Apple did not provide the two engineers with any specialized hardware or software tools as well and they had to purchase their own iPods for working on them as well. They had added special hardware to the iPod, which generated data they wanted to record secretly.

Along with details about the fifth-generation iPod and its operating system, Shayer also goes into the inner-workings of Apple's secrecy, which was seemingly even more prominent when the company was doing a favor for the government. "They were careful to make sure I never saw the hardware, and I never did".

"But it still had to look and work like a normal iPod".

"This wasn't a collaboration with Bechtel with a contract and payment", Shayer wrote.

I learned that an official at the Department of Energy had contacted Apple's senior vice president of Hardware, requesting the company's help in making custom modified iPods. However, the Department of Energy is responsible for the USA nuclear weapons and power programs. Apple has repeatedly pushed back against USA authorities' demands to allow access to the iPhones of suspects in mass shootings, saying building such a workaround would compromise privacy for all its users. But he does have a theory: they may have been building a "stealth Geiger counter" for measuring radioactivity.

He joined the company in 1997 and exited in 2006, at which time he was succeeded by Tony (Fadell), who at that time was in the role of vice-president of iPod engineering since 2004. Only four people knew of the project, none of whom now work at the company, and no paper trail was left behind to indicate the secret effort.

Only four people at the company knew about the project, according to former Apple software engineer David Shayer.

Apple has yet to respond to a request for confirmation of the story.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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