Monday, February 22, 2016

This Would Be Easy To Misportray

The FBI wants to break into the iPhone of the San Bernadino terrorists and Apple is refusing a court order to help.  I can understand Apple's reluctance to provide carte blanche to open up all iPhones.  But it is hard to believe that they can't do this one phone.  The owner is dead, and was engaged in an act of terrorism.


  1. It's when you get into the details that Apple's position starts to make more sense. Under normal circumstances, Apple would cooperate. In fact, they *are* cooperating. All the phone backups are in FBI possession. The problem is that the phone stopped backing up about two months prior to the attack. Nobody knows why. Had a government employee not violated procedure and tripped the apple locking software, the FBI would have long ago gotten the small percentage of data that they don't already have. If nothing else, they could have simply read out an image of the iphone and loaded up as many virtual iphones as necessary to brute force the password.

    The FBI wants Apple to write a new version of IOS that is cracked and force a locked IOS device to accept that update without user intervention. This is not the same as walking into a bank vault and opening up a safe deposit box. It's a court mandated software development project ordered by the government on the strength of one judge signing a writ and the work to be done without compensation. It would significantly affect the desirability of the entire IOS platform in a very negative way and Apple makes more money from IOS than MacOS these days.

    It's not a reasonable thing to ask and it's not a thing that you would expect a judge to have the power to do based on their own authority and with one signature.

  2. They can do it, but when they do it "just this once" why do you not believe that it will be done for everything else? Start with terrorists, go to pedophiles, then violent criminals, and by the time we're done they'll be doing it for any reason. This case is more than likely the best chance they've got at finding a sympathetic target that can't complain. Remember that Administration officials said they were waiting for just this kind of situation last September where they could use this kind of justification to get back doors into encryption.

    In this particular case, you've got the FBI as the ones who made the data inaccessible. As for the Farooks, remember that they shredded their other phones, and their hard drives disappeared, so the odds that there's anything on this phone are pretty low. Even the FBI admits that, with the director saying that "Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can't look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don't follow this lead." Not everyone believes him on that, even some of the relatives' survivors.

  3. You need to read Bruce Schneier on this:

    If they give them the ability on one, they give them the ability on all of them.

  4. 1. The FBI is a crime-chasing organisation, not a cryptological one.
    2. They solicited assistance from Apple, and while the Apple was in transit, the Feds decided to play some finger-pokery, which screwed the tools to be used to side-step pass-code.
    3. Apple turned over all the iCloud material they held; nothing has been said about the meta-data from the phone company.
    4. NSA. It's part of their job, where are they? Perhaps they are still miffed that Apple doesn't submit its OSs to NSA for 'examination' and 'security assessments'.


  5. A few comments...

    Apple can do this. So can NSA. My guess is that NSA may not have this capability or be willing to reveal it, because of Ed Snowden's treason. They dare not develop it or will be caught in the next hysteria.

    I am also quite sure that China, Iran and Russia can do this.

    From what has been released, the hack is very simple: defeat the anti-guessing procedure in the code. For Apple, that is trivial, and I would be very shocked if they don't have or didn't have code around already without the anti-guessing algorithm - just for testing and debugging.

    For an outsider, it is harder and will take more time (probably another reason for the request). First the code has to be accessed, dumped, and analyzed. That is very time consuming. I've done this sort of thing in the past, when I was younger.

    To get to the code, they need to read out the ROM or Flash in which it resides. That's a piece of cake - the chips can be pulled from another iPhone, hooked up to a bit of simple hardware, and dumped. The code also has to be put back in and executed. It is possible that the Apple hardware uses cryptography to verify that Apple made the change. If so, that's a bigger challenge. But its not insurmountable. Once the algorithms are know, they can be duplicated on any piece of hardware or virtual machine, and the key guessing can be done there.

    I have seen far more serious security cracked, where antitamper existed to prevent access, and the crypto keys were stored in RAM. Some engineers successfully hacked this in their spare time (using their employer's failure analysis lab).

    I raise all of this so that those who think the FBI is evil can get a bit of perspective. The point is that the bad guys can already crack this stuff. In this case, only the good guys are being slowed down by Apple's obstinance. Apple is only doing this for marketing reasons. It wants to sell people the *illusion* that the evil US government (which, in this area, isn't that evil) cannot read their love notes or whatever. In doing so, it and Silicon Valley are greatly harming the ability of a free and democratic country to protect itself. They are intentionally placing their products outside of our long standing, constitutional process that has long worked for wire traces, wire taps, etc. The fact that they and we are free to do this is testament to the fact that this process works.

    Screw Apple. If someone else made PC's as good as theirs, I would be gone from their customer base.