After the news of FBI demanding Apple to create a backdoor in its iOS mobile operating system to help them access the San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, CEO Tim Cook has addressed Apple customers via an open letter. In the letter which was posted on Apple’s website, Tim has stated the FBI backdoor order as’chilling’ and ‘dangerous’.
Through the letter, Cook has clearly described Apple’s part in the San Bernardino shooting case investigation and FBI’s request to create a backdoor so they can use ‘brute force’ attacks to unlock the iPhone in question. With the standard iPhone setup, a user has up to 10 attempts to get the passcode right before the device wipes itself. The FBI demanded Apple’s “reasonable assistance” to bypass or disablbe the auto-erase function whether it is turned on or not.
An iPhone locked with passcode was recovered following the San Bernardino terrorist attack that killed 14 people and injured 22 on 2nd December.
Cook says that instead of asking for legislative action through the Congress, FBI is proposing an “unprecedented use” of the All Writs Act of 1789 “to justify an expansion of its authority.”
If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.
Cook however, believes that FBI’s intentions are good but it would be wrong for the government to force them to build a backdoor. Just like any sane person, Cook too fear that such demand from FBI could undermine the freedom and liberty which meant to be protected by the government.
Tim says if the software — which does not exist today — end up in wrong hands, it would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.
The backdoor which FBI wants Apple to develop could be used over and over again, on any number of devices, once developed. The technique could act as a “master key” capable of opening millions of locks.
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.
The tech giant’s stand against continued attempts to create weaker encryption is commendable. In the digital era where we are storing our personal information on electronic devices, we expect companies like Apple to keep our data safe, secure and away from wrong hands. Corporations like Apple standing on consumer side is a great sign of trust, as it seems at the moment.
Whether Apple creates a backdoor or not, government agencies can’t be stopped from creating such tools on their own. It is easy to assume FBI must have already tried its hands on cracking Apple’s encryption. Even if Apple doesn’t help develop the tool, FBI and other agencies all over the world still can.
After Tim Cook’s letter was posted on Apple’s website, Tim Cook became top trending topic on Twitter worldwide.
Meanwhile, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has applauded Apple “for standing up for real security”. EFF via a blog post, announced its plan to to file an amicus brief in Apple’s support.
I would like to end with Edward Snowden’s recent tweet on the backdoor and its capabilities. According to Snowden, the tool FBI is requesting would make it possible to break an iPhone 5c or later in half hour.
What are your thoughts? Should companies like Apple help create weaker encryption lowering security of consumer data? Or Apple is on correct side, defending such attempts? Could this mean criminals will have upper hand in similar cases? Feel free to share your thoughts.
Update: For those who are interested, the court order which asked Apple to backdoor an iPhone is available here.