About a month ago a federal judge ordered Apple to assist the FBI with breaking into the iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. The San Bernardino shooters, a husband and wife team, killed 14 people and injured 22 in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino California on December 2, 2015. Both terrorists, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik were pursued and killed in a shootout.
The FBI were looking for relevant data on who the attackers were communicating with, potentially via iMessage, and who may have also helped plan the shooting. According to court papers, Apple declined to voluntarily provide technical help in accessing the iPhone 5c owned by Syed Farook.
They were dead and they were terrorists, why did Apple not help the FBI?
Apple declined due to its policy to never undermine the security features of its products. They have a long term view of the security of all their products and protecting their customers. If a purpose-built operating system which could hack into Farook’s phone got into the wrong hands it would open a significant new avenue of attack, undermining the security protections that Apple spent years developing to protect its customers.
The FBI found a way to do it anyway and why it is scary
The FBI worked with an Israeli company called Cellebrite to hack into the phone. As far as we can tell, the FBI has not told Apple how it got into Farook’s phone. This is a big deal in the cybersecurity world as experts believe the best-case scenario is to share security flaws so companies can protect consumers. The idea is that it’s better for everyone to know about an open door, versus just a select few.
But, the FBI has offered to help local enforcement agencies unlock phones, which hints they intend to hold onto this security flaw. Which means that there is a way to break into your iPhone that someone out there knows about — and given that a third-party helped Apple, it’s not just the FBI. But since the FBI hasn’t disclosed the flaw, Apple users are not protected from it.
This is something for you to be aware of as in most cases your entire life can be accessed with just your phone. Your private conversations, photo’s music, notes, calendars , contacts, financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going are stored on your phone. According to Apple,
“All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.