The FBI and Apple are in a bitter legal war in relation to
access to information on the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino
attackers. The FBI is seeking orders forcing Apple to create a new
iPhone operating system (OS) that will circumvent several security
features in order to install it on the attacker's iPhone so as
to access files and data.
A major security feature of the iPhone is that each phone has a
unique random factory generated "encryption key," which
can only be accessed when the user enters in the correct PIN code.
The key is embedded on the phone and, combined with the PIN code,
After ten failed attempts of guessing the PIN, the phone does
not simply wipe the data - it erases the encryption key.
Thereafter, even Apple itself can't access the encryption key
of a particular phone.
It is because of this security feature that the FBI has sought
orders to force Apple to create a new OS that removes this feature
as well as the time delay that is seen between failed PIN
With the new OS, the FBI can freely use what's known as a
'brute force' attack to try and guess the PIN without the
time delay between each incorrect guess (that slows the process
down considerably) and without the risk of the system auto-erasing
the encryption key.
Apple's point of view
Apple's viewpoint was made clear in CEO Tim Cook's
"A Message to
Our Customers." Ultimately, Apple's concern is that
this new OS may fall into the wrong hands which could threaten the
security of all iPhones.
The FBI's point of view
The FBI has argued that it will only be used in this one
instance on this one particular iPhone so that they may access the
files and data of the San Bernardino attacker.
FBI Director James Comey recently stated "we simply want
the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the
terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially
self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly
[via 'brute force' attack]...we don't want to break
anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the
My point of view
Despite the FBI's argument that the new OS will only be used
in this particular case, there is no guarantee that it won't be
used again or fall into the hands of the wrong people.
In fact, while the Justice Department has tried to cast the
issue as being narrowly focused on one iPhone, it was recently
acknowledged by Comey that if the government succeeds in this case
it could set a precedent for other cases.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has said he has 175
iPhones waiting to be unlocked, but the number has now risen to
Putting the above aside, we are all well aware of the power of
hackers in this day and age. Should this new OS be hacked, and make
no mistake, there will be numerous hackers that will try to access
this OS then all iPhones are at risk.
The main argument of #TeamFBI seems to be "if you have
nothing to hide you have nothing to fear." This is not about
having something to hide (particularly from the
'government'), it is about protecting your personal
information and data from the world at large. Independent news
website, The Conversation has made this point clear in the
following statement "[it's] not whether you have
anything to hide, but whom you might want to hide your information
Personally, I think creator of McAfee Anti-Virus, John
McAfee's comments on the matter have been spot on. McAfee was
recently quoted saying "The...FBI...who says, 'we will
protect this software and only use it on one phone,' that
agency was hacked by a 15-year-old boy just last week, who walked
off with all the personnel records including, [of] undercover
McAfee went on to say "what frightens me even more about
this is that a federal judge in America [who] is so illiterate in
cyber security...would allow this order to go through."
To me, that's a point well made.
So, whose side are you on in the #FBIvsApple case - #TeamFBI or
#TeamApple? I would love to hear your point of view – email me or tweet me
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
We consider the risks for brands and marketers, with a special focus on the recently-commenced 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).