Why the FBI’s Order to Apple Is So Technically Clever


Apple_ZionOn Tuesday, the US government dropped what might be the biggest bombshell yet in its ongoing war on encryption: A court order compelling Apple to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters who killed 14 people and injured 22 last December.

By Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Joshua Kopstein|MOTHERBOARD

This is the latest chapter in the FBI’s fight against Apple and encryption, which started when Apple implemented new security and encryption features with the launch of the iPhone 6 in September of 2014. At the time, Apple said it wouldn’t be able to unlock phones anymore—even if the authorities came knocking at their door with a warrant—because it just didn’t have the technical means. But the US government has since been testing the legal boundaries of what it can force Apple, and by extension any other tech company, to do, mainly using the questionable legal authorities granted by a 227-year-old law.

And this time, it might have devised a way to prove that Apple does have the technical means to help cops and feds when they have to access data on a locked device.

At stake is whether a company can be legally compelled to sabotage the security of its own software

In the case of the San Bernardino shooter, rather than telling Apple to break the encryption protecting the device, which is an older iPhone 5C running iOS 9, the order would force the company to build a special version of its software that removes protections against anyone guessing your passcode millions of times until it gets it right—what’s technically known as a “brute-force” attack.

Apple immediately contested the order, calling it an “unprecedented step” where the government is essentially asking the company to “hack” its own users and create a “backdoor” that could be used any other time in the future.

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