Apple reiterates, strengthens its opposition to FBI’s demands in iPhone ‘backdoor’ request

In a memo sent out this morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook thanked employees for their support during the company’s high-profile fight with the FBI and reiterated the company’s position against complying with an order to develop a new “backdoor” to decrypt information stored on the cell phone of one of the San Bernadino shooters,Buzzfeed reports. Cook responded to the FBI’s request via an open letter to customers last Tuesday, and today Apple posted a Q&A addressing further questions customers may have about the growing debate, explaining that the removal of privacy safeguards and the legal precedent set by such a move would put all Apple users at risk of having their personal information compromised. While FBI Director James Comey argued in a blog post that the FBI isn’t looking for a master key for access to all iPhones, Apple said the FBI’s argument — that the unlocking technique, once created, would be used only once for this specific iPhone — is impossible to guarantee. “Yes, it is certainly possible to create an entirely new operating system to undermine our security features as the government wants,” the document reads. “But it’s something we believe is too dangerous to do. The only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.”
Apple contends that the FBI’s use of the 1789 All Writs Act is unjustified given that the company has already offered up several other alternatives to recover the information. One of those methods —pairing the iPhone with a known Wi-Fi network in an attempt to get the phone to create an iCloud backup of the information stored inside — was eliminated when San Bernadino County reset the iPhone’s password. Apple’s engineers discovered the password had been changed more than 24 hours after the phone entered government custody, and after a public back-and-forth the FBI admitted Saturday to ordering the password changed, according to a separate Buzzfeed report. But the FBI still contends that the data retrieved from the iCloud backup may not have included stored on the phone anyway, and that changing the password “[does] not impact Apple’s ability to assist with the the court order under the All Writs Act.”

As Apple and the government continue to battle in court and in the media, former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden weighed in on the debate during a virtual talk at Johns Hopkins University, saying the FBI’s argument that it can’t access the phone’s information by any means is technically untrue, ABC News reports. “De-capping,” the method Snowden mentioned, entails physically removing and exposing the phone’s memory chip to microscopic scrutiny and exploitation. The process involves using acid to remove the chip’s protective housing and then drilling into the chip itself with an ion beam to install tiny probes onto the chip to read out its data bit by bit. Senior Security Consultant at IOActive and hardware reverse engineering specialist Andrew Zonenberg said the method could work, but is understandably daunting to the FBI, given the high level of risk. Even a slight accident could destroy the chip and eliminate any chance of retrieving the information stored on it. “Invasive attacks are inherently risky and if they try something like this and it fails, then that’s their last resort,” Zonenberg said.