Apple Update on The San Bernardino Terrorist Case

Recently, global media reported that the FBI had requested the assistance of Apple (yes, the global technology super-giant) in gaining access to deceased terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone.

Basically, after iOS8 was released, photographs, messages and other media became encrypted behind the iPhone’s passcode (either a 4 or 6 digit numerical password) and Farook had this. ‘Luckily’, his only contained 4 digits, however this leads to 10,000 possible combinations.

The iPhone deletes all data after 10 incorrect guesses.

This has led to a nightmare for the FBI, being unable to attempt to unlock it incase ‘vital’ information is lost. This is why they have asked for Apple to provide assistance in unlocking the phone, or in the least, making it possible to use “brute force’ on the password by disabling the ‘swipe data’ feature – a process of guessing the password over and over until correct.

The FBI has asked Apple to do two things.

Firstly, it wants the company to alter Farook’s iPhone so that investigators can make unlimited attempts at the passcode without the risk of erasing the data.

Secondly, it wants Apple to help implement a way to rapidly try different passcode combinations, to save tapping in each one manually.

As expected, especially since the post-Snowden world, Apple responded negatively towards this, releasing a statement on the Apple website minutes ago.

Here are some key points made in the statement:

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

“Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.”

We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.”

“We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

The statement then seemingly provides a clear “back-off” directive, labelling it as a “back door” and having the potential for further use outside of the case.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

The open letter then closes with the following line:

“We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country.”

The statement was then concluded simply by “Tim Cook”, Chief Executive of Apple, connoting the extremely serious and socially prominent argument this issue raises.

Do you think Apple should create a ‘back door’ for the FBI to use and potentially use outside this case, or do you think this would be abused and add to the ‘security state’? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

-Benjamin John Wareing

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