Tom Hudson: Cyber security, policing and profits

The nation’s top prosecutor will be in Apple’s backyard in the week ahead just as the two tussle over cyber security.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is among the scheduled speakers at a global cyber security conference that begins Monday in San Francisco. Lynch is the boss at the same agency demanding Apple help it unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the December murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. Apple supplied the FBI with the data it could from the terrorist’s phone. But the feds want more.

After a California judge ordered Apple to make a new iPhone operating system to bypass certain encryption features, the company refused and took its fight public.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told ABC News that creating such a system is the “software equivalent of cancer.” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a boycott of Apple. Lynch told a congressional subcommittee encryption presents “a very real threat to law enforcement’s mission.”

This is the drama playing out publicly for smartphone users and investors.

Cyber security is important. Protecting the nation’s power grid from hackers should be a national security priority. Customers would flee a bank with loose online security. Retailers such as Target have seen sales shrink immediately after falling victim to massive credit card cyber thefts. There is a cost to customers and shareholders for not enough cyber protection.

Apple has touted its security protections in an increasingly digital world. Just as Apple has a duty to follow the law, it has an obligation to its shareholders. It is one of the most widely held stocks in America. Shares of Apple are in the 401k’s, mutual funds and pension plans of millions of Americans.

With Apple’s success, there clearly is a profit motive for more protection. For investors, the question is how far will law enforcement go demanding that protection isn’t beyond its reach?

Financial journalist Tom Hudson hosts "The Sunshine Ecnoomy" on WLRN-FM in Miami. Follow him on Twitter @HudsonsView.