Snowden claims FBI doesn’t need Apple to create a Backdoor (so why is it fighting so hard to get one?)

by Matt Klassen on March 10, 2016

apple-fbi-iphone-encryptionWhen a California judge first ordered Apple to give the FBI access to the smartphone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook last month I’ll admit that the debate looked fairly cut and dry; a private enterprise resisting a theretofore untrustworthy government’s compulsion to create backdoors into otherwise secure and necessary encryption technology.

But as both sides ratchet up the rhetoric, it’s tough to see the truth amidst the growing piles of bulls—t, which, interestingly enough, is how infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden characterized the FBI’s entire argument that forcing Apple to create backdoors into its operating system is the agency’s last and only resort.

In fact, now that I’ve heard prosecutors claim that Apple can easily give law enforcement the access its demanding, and has often done so, and the simultaneous claims that the FBI already has the tools to break the encryption if it wanted to (and if it hadn’t bungled up the entire endeavour from the get-go), I have to wonder why law enforcement is pushing so hard for this backdoor at all…particularly when insiders like Snowden believe they don’t really need it.

According to Snowden, the FBI has a myriad of options available to it to crack Apple’s iPhone encryption on its own, meaning that the notion that Apple’s encryption is unbreakable is false, and so is the FBI claim that Apple creating a backdoor into the iOS platform is the only avenue left available. When commenting on whether Apple holds the only keys to its encryption and the FBI is simply asking for them, Snowden replied, “Respectfully, that’s bulls—t.”

As Snowden tweeted earlier this week, “The global technological consensus is against the FBI,” linking a blog post from the American Civil Liberties Union website detailing the ability to bypass the auto-erase function on the phone in question, the impossibility of which the FBI used as a cornerstone of its appeal to the California courts.

Further, as I’ve mentioned before, the FBI could have accessed, with relative ease, the phone’s iCloud backup, that is if agents working for San Bernardino County hadn’t screwed that option up by resetting the iCloud password.

But even with that no longer available, as Jenna McLaughlin from The Intercept explains, “security researchers say there are other options, like “de-capping” the phone’s memory chip to access it outside the phone (which Snowden has also mentioned), or resetting the phone’s internal counter so that you can guess the passwords as many times as you want.”

Of course these options are time consuming, difficult, and contain risks such as destroying the phone itself, but all have been proven successful in the past (and of course we haven’t even mentioned the shadowy covert options deployed by the likes of the NSA and CIA), which makes me wonder even more why the FBI continues to press.

Perhaps then what we’re dealing with, from the FBI’s point of view, is not a matter of urgency when it comes to encryption, but a matter of opportunity to compel Apple to offer law enforcement an easier way to do things. As McLaughlin writes, “The key may be that none of those ways would be nearly as easy for the FBI as making Apple do it — this time, and from now on.”

I’ll admit that now more than ever I’m not sure who to believe, as even as prosecutors claim that they aren’t asking Apple for anything the company can’t do, or hasn’t done numerous times, we hear security experts claiming that the FBI doesn’t even need to compel Apple to cooperate to gain entry to the phone in question, leaving us with a private tech firm looking to protect its encryption assets by refusing to assist in a reasonably worthy cause, and the government trying to force Apple to play along when it really doesn’t require Apple’s help at all; certainly not as cut and dry as it initially seemed.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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