Apple vehemently opposes FBI request to create iPhone backdoor in San Bernardino court case

Replying to the order issued against Apple by the U.S. Federal judge to unlock the iPhone 5c of one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino case, Tim Cook has written an open letter to customers, in which he has explained them what is at stake here and what the implications will be if Apple ends up following the court orders.

“But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create,” he wrote. “They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

Brute-force passcode attempts
As a quick backgrounder, the FBI wants Apple to help them bypass or disable the auto-erase function which automatically erases all data on an iPhone after ten failed passcode attempts. They also want Apple to modify the shooter’s iPhone so that brute-force passcode attempts could be performed through the handset’s physical port, as well as over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

In removing the delay between passcode attempts, the FBI could use speedy computers to break into the device. iOS enforces a 1-minute delay after five failed passcode attempts, a 5-minute delay after six attempts, a 15-minute delay after 7-8 attempts and a one-hour delay after nine attempts.

A tenth passcode attempt will erase all data on the device, provided a user has enabled the option in Settings → Touch ID & Passcode → Erase Data. Because these delays are built directly into the Secure Enclave hardware, a tiny chip that is walled off from other iPhone components and holds encrypted fingerprint, health and other data, removing it would require modifying iOS to let the FBI guess the password.

That, in and of itself, would constitute a dangerous precedent which might potentially undermine the security and privacy of all Apple users because government agencies could use a special version of iOS that Apple is supposed to provide to unlock anyone’s iPhone and access their data.

Cook adds that FBI is proposing the government to use the All Writs Act of 1789 to “to justify an expansion of its authority.” Down the line, the government’s demands can be chilling and using the All Writs Act like this will essentially allow it to order Apple to bypass any security measure and access the data of anyone’s iPhone.

In the end, Cook says that Apple is challenging the FBI’s demands “with deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country.” He requests that all the involved parties take a step back and consider the implications if Apple agrees to the U.S. court order.

“I agree 100 percent with the courts. In that case, we should open it up,” he said. “I think security overall — we have to open it up. And we have to use our heads. We have to use common sense. Somebody the other day called me a ‘common-sense conservative.’ We have to use common sense. Our country has so many problems.”


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