Apple Resists Court Order to Release San Bernardino Shooter’s Phone Data

Company Says Unprecedented Technology Would Pose Security Threats

Apple is resisting a court order from the United States government to provide encrypted cell phone data from the San Bernardino shooters.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a statement.  “That is why encryption has become so important to all of us. For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe.”

“We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business,” he said.

Cook said that the FBI asked them to build a new version of the iPhone operating system that would enable a user to bypass security in order to access encrypted data, essentially creating a “backdoor” to the iPhone. This software does not currently exist, and Apple says it’s too dangerous to create. If developed, would give someone the ability to unlock any iPhone in his or her physical possession.

Dr. Xunyu Pan, an assistant professor in FSU’s department of computer science, said that it wouldn’t be difficult for this software to be developed. Other companies, such as Microsoft, tend to create back doors to make it easier for the engineers to track and fix system bugs, according to Pan.

“Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor,” Cook said. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Whether the back door could be spread to cyber criminals “depends on how the tech companies are willing to protect the backdoor from being disclosed by the cyber criminals,” Pan said.  In the Apple-FBI case, it is reasonable for FBI to require Apple to help unlock the shooter’s iPhone because it can help the FBI crack the criminal case. But Apple may not want to create a backdoor for all iPhones since it will have a negative impact on their commercial interests.”

Creating a backdoor wouldn’t guarantee that the data would be accessible. Pan explained that “Even if the password can be hacked, if the messages/files are encrypted using very advanced encryption algorithm, it is still very hard to disclose the contents of the messages/files without knowing the encryption keys.”

On February 20, the FBI asked the San Bernardino government to tamper with the phone, according to The Guardian, and the iCloud password was automatically reset. Apple does have the ability to access an iCloud account, but that feature is disabled when an iCloud password is reset. Also, the account stopped backing up data to iCloud on October 19, roughly six weeks before the shooting. Apple provided the FBI with all iCloud records up to that point.

The shooter, Syed Farook, had another phone, but he destroyed it.

Apple could have been able to turn on the automatic backup, which may have made data after October 19 available, but there’s no guarantee that the data would be available. Farook may have turned off auto-backups, and the data on the iCloud server doesn’t include everything contained in the phone.

The FBI has said that it wants to determine whether Farook had contact with the victims or any unknown co-conspirators.

According to Cook, the FBI is attempting to expand its authority via the All Writs Act of 1789, which says, “The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Cook said. “We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack,” he added.

Writing that Apple is “shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December,” Cook said Apple provided the FBI with all requested records that are in Apple’s possession. Despite this, the tech company is being forced to go to court against the U.S. government.

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