The FBI has been trying to force Apple to do something it doesn’t want to for the past few months and now the shoe is on the other foot. Following the FBI calling off its legal demands and announcing it had used a third party to break into the San Bernardino attacker’s smartphone, Apple now wants to know how it did it.
The FBI and Apple have been tussling in courts and the press for a couple of months now, with the former wanting the latter to weaken the security on one of its iPhones, in order to find out potentially useful information on the San Bernardino attacker and his possible contacts. Apple repeatedly denied it, drawing support from other tech firms for doing so, as it said that it would affect the security of all iPhones around the world.
Although there was no real winner in the case, the FBI did eventually back down, but was able to get the job done with what it described as a “third party,” instead. But as Apple has said all along, if a backdoor or flaw exists in iPhone security, that same exploit could be used by anyone, so it wants to know what and where it is, so it can shore up that hole.
Much like the original case from the FBI, this is quite unprecedented. As the LATimes points out, while governments and intelligence agencies have used third party security companies and hackers before to help gain access to devices, none of it has played out in the public before. That’s why Apple and more importantly, you and I, know about it.
But it does raise constitutional questions. If companies shouldn’t be forced to put their customers at risk to help the government, should the government be allowed to put customers at risk without telling the affected company about it?
Apple will no doubt look to find a legal reason to compel the FBI to pass on details on the flaw, as if a flaw exists, it could be exploited by others whether it is disclosed to Apple or not. However intelligence agencies like the NSA have previously kept security holes under wraps for years so they can utilise them for their own efforts.
There is also some concern that now people know a flaw exists in the iPhone’s security, that people will come out of the woodwork to try and crack it.
KitGuru Says: Although it seems unlikely that any software can be 100 per cent secure at any point, knowing that the iPhone has a particular weakness may well see people go looking for it. Do you think the FBI should inform Apple on what the flaw is?