As you may be aware, Apple has received a court order to assist in accessing the iPhone of the San Bernadino killer Syed Farook. Apple has agreed to assist but won't back down on one thing. So what exactly has Apple been asked to do?
- Prevent the phone from erasing itself
If certain security settings are enabled, after 10 failed attempts at entering a passcode, an iPhone can erase the personal data on the device. The FBI doesn't want to this to happen.
- Automate the process for trying out passcode combinations...
Farook used a four-digit passcode, for which there are 10,000 possible combinations. The FBI doesn't want to have to guess them all manually and so it wants Apple to allow the passcode to be tried electronically. This means the FBI could simply instruct a computer to try every passcode, something that would take just minutes or even seconds.
- …and without unnecessary delay.
Currently the iPhone prevents you from entering a passcode for longer and longer periods of time each time you get it wrong. The FBI wants this barrier removed.
- Control the process, but not know how it's done.
This is an interesting line, as it is suggests the FBI is willing to allow Apple to work on the phone at its own HQ, and in a way that doesn't risk the encryption software being released into the world.
In short, the FBI want Apple to create and install a "back door" in the operating system which would allow law enforcement agencies access to any iPhone should they wish to.
The FBI's arguement is that this would only be used on Farook's phone, but Apple isn't happy with that and insists anyone with the knowledge could abuse this back door for malicious purposes and that this back door would not only be limited to this case, but any future case too.
Apple have released a letter to it's customer Apple boss Tim Cook has stated that the FBI already has the full support from Apple and they have provided all tools currently available to help them.
Tim Cook also stated that because the encryption key is only held by the customer, there is no way that they could decrypt the phone any easier than the FBI themselves could.
What happens next?
Apple has a few more days to formally submit its response, which in short will be "No." and then if no party is happy, this will be passed up to the District Court. If there is still no solution then it will be passed up to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court which handles these sorts of issues on the US West Coast.
If that court backs the FBI, and Apple again refuses, it could eventually reach the US Supreme Court, whose decision will ultimately be final and if they agree Apple would have no choice but to follow the FBI orders.
This process could take several years, so don't expect a final decision any time soon, but what is clear is that Apple will be standing firm on their decision to protect their customers data.
Who's side are you on? Let us know.