Tuesday, Jun 08, 2021, 09:30 Web

iCloud Private Relay: How Apple's Upcoming VPN Service Works

Many Mac and iPhone owners use commercial VPN services. They want to leave as few traces as possible on the Internet, which can be linked to them and their personal information. All data traffic passes through a virtual private network, which makes it impossible for providers to record surfing behavior. In addition, website operators do not receive the actual IP address, but rather an IP address provided by the VPN service provider.

iCloud Private Relay fixes weak point of VPN.
However, many - if not all - of the currently existing offerings have a weak point when it comes to data privacy and security. Although the network traffic is encrypted and runs through a tunnel, a lot of information can be read by the VPN service provider. This includes the user's IP address and the URLs of the websites accessed. With iCloud Private Relay, Apple will offer a service that remedies this deficit. Craig Federighi, the iPhone company's software chief, now explained how the data protection feature included in the new paid service called iCloud+ works in an interview with Fast Company.

Two-stage process ensures data protection.
To ensure that no one can track surfing behavior, iCloud Private Relay uses a two-step process. A URL that is called up is first forwarded to Apple's server in encrypted form, so the Californian company does not find out which website the user wants to call up. The system then anonymizes the actual IP address and forwards the request to a company certified by Apple. This means that the company cannot assign the randomly disguised IP address to the user. The servers of Apple's partner companies, which can be large providers, for example, then decrypt the URL, call up the desired website and forward it to Apple's computer. From there, they finally reach the Mac, iPhone or iPad, where they are displayed by Safari.

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Privacy feature available exclusively in Safari.
Apple and the intermediary service provider never receive the IP address and the URL called up. Tracking based on this information is therefore impossible, and the data is also completely withheld from the access provider. In addition, website operators cannot determine the exact location of the user, as they are only informed of the approximate region. iCloud Private Relay is always used automatically when a Mac, iPhone or iPad owner is logged into their iCloud account. However, according to Craig Federighi, Apple's new privacy feature only works with Safari and is not available in other browsers. Consequently, the process is not used in apps either. In some countries, such as China, South Africa, Belarus and Saudi Arabia, Apple does not offer iCloud Private Relay for legal reasons.

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