Apple CEO says helping FBI hack into terrorist’s iPhone would be ‘too dangerous’ – Los Angeles Times

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Setting up a pitched battle between Silicon Valley and the counter-terrorism community, Apple‘s chief executive said Wednesday that his company would fight a court order demanding the tech giant’s help in the San Bernardino attack investigation, turning what had been a philosophical dispute into a legal skirmish that could have major ramifications for the tech industry.

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook said that the FBI request that the company develop software to hack into one of its own devices, an iPhone 5c, used by gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, would set a dangerous precedent that could compromise security for billions of customers. The government, Cook contends, is asking Apple to create a “backdoor” to its own security systems.

“Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them,” Cook wrote in a letter published on the company’s website. “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 company will file an opposition to the court order, which was handed down in Riverside on Tuesday. The court order marks the first time Apple has been asked to modify its software to access data sought by the government, according to an industry executive familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Dec. 2 San Bernardino terrorist attack killed 14 people. Investigators said unlocking the phone could provide valuable information about the terror plot and whether Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, received help from anyone else.

Chenxi Wang, chief strategy officer at the network security firm Twistlock, said the court battle would be a seminal moment in balancing “privacy and civil liberty against government data access.”

“If Apple succeeds in fighting the court order, it will set up a high barrier for the FBI and the other government groups to access citizen data from now on,” Wang said. “This will absolutely have a ripple effect. Apple is now viewed as the flag bearer for protecting citizen data, and if they succeed, there will be a flood of other companies following suit.”

Tensions between tech magnates and Washington, D.C., have been high since the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks revealed a massive domestic spying network that left millions concerned about communications privacy. Apple also changed the way it manages phone encryption in 2014, making it nearly impossible for forensic investigators to sidestep its pass-code system. Previously, investigators could tap into a device’s hardware port to access encrypted data, according to Clifford Neuman, director of USC’s Center for Computer System Security.

The pass-code system is the key issue blocking federal investigators from gaining access to the data hidden on the phone used by Farook. Investigators want to unlock the phone by using a computer program to automatically guess numeric pass codes until one works, according to a court filing. But they say they require special access from Apple to attempt that on the phone without erasing data or getting bogged down in a long process.

Investigators say a feature is probably enabled that would immediately and permanently destroy encrypted data in the event of 10 consecutive failed log-in attempts.

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In the government motion, the FBI argued that Farook intentionally disabled the phone’s iCloud backup function six weeks before the Dec. 2 terror attack at the Inland Regional Center. Any communications linked to the shooting, as well as location data that might help the FBI map the movements of Farook and his wife before and after the attack, are accessible only through the phone itself, the government said.

Investigators were able to retrieve some data from previous iCloud backups, and companies like Apple normally comply with requests to retrieve cloud data because they do not involve giving the government access to company servers or altering software, Neuman said. The San Bernardino County Department of Health, which employed Farook, actually owned the device and gave the FBI consent to search it, according to court filings.

The court order handed down Tuesday would require Apple to provide the FBI with a “recovery bundle” or file that would reboot Farook’s device while disabling the auto-erase feature. That would allow the FBI to repeatedly enter pass codes remotely without risk of destroying the data on the phone.

Apple CEO says helping FBI hack into terrorist’s iPhone would be ‘too dangerous’ – Los Angeles Times