Apple has contested a court order requiring it to create an iOS backdoor that would assist an FBI investigation into last year’ San Bernardino shooting.
On December 2nd, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife killed 14 people and injured 22 others at a holiday luncheon for Farook’s coworkers. The couple was killed in a shootout with police.
Authorities later recovered Farook’s iPhone 5c from the couple’s Lexus IS300. But they have reported that they cannot access Farook’s data because they do not know his passcode, reports the Associated Press.
Apple encrypts each of its mobile devices by default. Additionally, each iPhone comes with a self-destruct mechanism that deletes certain information off of the device after 10 failed password attempts.
Federal prosecutors have therefore demanded that Apple create a backdoor that would in essence bypass the self-destruct feature and allow the FBI to brute-force the deceased shooter’s passcode.
On Tuesday, Magistrate Sheri Pym, in the US District Court of Central California, ruled in the government’s favor:
“Apple’s reasonable technical assistance shall accomplish the following three important functions,” the court order notes. “It will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled; it will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the subject device for testing electronically via the physical device port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or other protocol available on the subject device and it will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the subject device, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between the passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.”
Following the magistrate’s ruling, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook published a statement in which he explains how Apple has fully cooperated with federal authorities regarding the San Bernardino shooting.
He observes, however, that such compliance does not include “[b]uilding a version of iOS that bypasses security.”
“They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone,” Cook comments. “Specifically, 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.”
Cook goes on to state that the technology, if created, would not apply to just Farook’s phone but to any Apple device. Such a tool, he argues, would undermine the progress Apple has made towards protecting its customers, including tens of millions of Americans.
Some in the tech community feel that the consequences of this court ruling extends beyond just Apple.
“[T]his isn’t just about one iPhone, it’s about all of our software and all of our digital devices, and if this precedent gets set it will spell digital disaster for the trustworthiness of everyone’s computers and mobile phones,” says Kevin Bankston, director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, as quoted by WIRED magazine.
To read Tim Cook’s statement in full, please click here.
This news follows several months after Apple and a number of other tech giants wrote President Obama urging him to not support policies that would undermine encryption technologies.