The dispute between Apple and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has been highly publicized and polarized folks from Silicon Valley to Washington D.C. The issue was one major recapitulation of a war that’s been being fought between U.S. government surveillance and personal privacy rights ever since the Snowden leaks.
However, a recent development in the court feud may finally put the issue to rest; the FBI requested on Monday for a postponement of oral arguments in court. The U.S. District Court in California ruled that the FBI showed adequately good cause for the delay and ordered it to file a status report regarding the issue by April 5th.
The FBI has spent the past few weeks reiterating its inability to compromise the password on the phone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook without Apple’s assistance, but apparently the agency is now singing a different tune.
That means the FBI’s original demand that Apple write software that would change iPhone security in such a way that allowed for its standard security protocol (to allow wrong password entries up to 10 tries, after which a wrong password entry causes all data on the phone to be erased) to be sidestepped, is temporarily on the back burner.
“Uou can always attack the phone while it’s running. There are hundreds of people in the world, if not more, who can do that, “explained Rod Schultz, vice president of product at Rubicon Labs. “They can attach a debugger to the device, and modify the instructions that are doing the policy check,” he explained.
The password could also be recovered by using a NAND mirroring technique, which would create a copy of the phone’s memory and reload it onto the phone if the FBI were to input 10 wrong passwords and everything were to be erased. The FBI could then attempt to break into the phone an addition 10 more times, with the same safeguard. Though this process would be complicated and slow (which was why the FBI didn’t want to do it), apparently Apple has created a substantial enough opposition to its demands that it may seem to be a more appetizing option.
Apparently there area myriad of ways to hack into locked iPhones, and that they have even been demonstrated in mass at hacker conferences like Black Hat. This has led many hackers to greet the FBI’s supposedly sudden discovery of a method with a certain air of doubt.
“Those of us who are watching both technology arguments and legal arguments are somewhat skeptical of the claim that the FBI suddenly discovered they could get into the phone,” reiterated Mike Godwin, general counsel and director of innovation policy at the R Street Institute. Godwin believes the FBI may have had other motives for requesting the court delay, or even for Apple’s help in the first place.
“The legal arguments that Apple produced were quite strong,” Godwin stated. “I think the FBI was worried it was going to lose based on the legal arguments.”
“If you’re going to lose a legal argument, and you have a way out of losing that argument that will set a precedent against your agency for a long time, maybe you’ll seize upon it,” Godwin speculated.