By Andrew Hendricks
In a decision that has gained the support of a whole host of industry leaders, Apple has decided to fight a lawful court order ruling in support of the FBI’s demand that Apple create a backdoor in the iPhone, removing current best practices in smartphone security. Following a tragic shooting by a married couple in San Bernardino, California, the locked iPhone of one of the attackers has caused a political firestorm among U.S. law enforcement, privacy advocates, and smartphone owners everywhere. While older iOS versions are easily “crackable,” Apple has lauded the fact that iOS is now so secure, without rewriting their security software, even Apple employees cannot get access to data inside the phone while the phone is still locked. Interestingly, the cloud is a different issue—had law officials not immediately tried to reset the account’s cloud password, Apple has claimed that they could have provided the phone’s backups as they synced, preventing the need for a worrisome “backdoor” in the first place.
After more than two months of attempts, the FBI has still not been able to unlock the iPhone through conventional methods, even with the aid of iPhone engineers. They cannot attempt a “brute force” method of hacking through multiple-guess for fear that after too many false guesses the data will be wiped, a precaution that would have been easy for the phone’s owner to install. Tim Cook explained their decision on Apple’s website in a post titled A Message to Our Customers. In it, he lays out the need for encryption, and the dangerous precedent their compliance would set in an internationally digital world where data security is more important than ever.
Tim Cook also goes on at length to emphasize that Apple is only rejecting complying with a request to create such vulnerable software—they are not rejecting assistance with the federal government in turning over digital and cloud available to them. “When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it,” writes Cook. However, Cook reminds readers, “the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software - which does not exist today - would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
ArsTechnica has published the court order online, highlighting the section of the order which quite literally demands Apple build what is essentially a master-key function for unlocking iPhones.