Precedence

Thought experiment: The US Government definitely has the technical ability to take an older iPhone, decap the chips in it and extract whatever keys they need. This capability is just too juicy for a government agency to have left undeveloped.  The FBI is almost certainly lying about their inability to crack that 5c (okay, they might need help from a certain other agency).

But the FBI probably sees this as win-win for them:

  • Apple refuses to unlock the phone. Regardless of whether Tim Cook goes to jail for contempt of court, or Apple wins in an eventual Supreme Court challenge, we should expect grandstanding legislation attempting to ban effective security on personal devices. “Apple is helping terrorists” and so forth.
  • Apple unlocks the phone. Now we have a flood of requests, world-wide, for similar unlocks.

It’s not about the phone. It’s all about the corner they think they have Apple (and the whole information industry) in.

A series of FOIA requests about how badly 5s security has been broken by the spook world would be pretty interesting. Classic FOIA stalling tactics would not help the government’s case.

[edit: It’s a iPhone 5c, not a 5s]

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4 Responses to Precedence

  1. Ben says:

    Minor point, it’s a 5c they’re after, not a 5s. Supposedly Apple would lack the capability to do what was asked on the 5s and newer.

  2. Adam Hall says:

    “The US Government definitely has the technical ability to take an older iPhone, decap the chips in it and extract whatever keys they need. This capability is just too juicy for a government agency to have left undeveloped.”

    That assumption about the ability of the US Government is also assuming the phone has no protection against someone trying exactly that and erasing itself. You give the US Government too much credit. Are you saying the iPhone/iOS security is already cracked? That is a huge assumption. A better question is why not try to subpoena the backups on Apple cloud servers, those most likely have no “automatic erase after so many cracking attempts” feature. It’s a clue that the government wants a backdoor on ALL iPhones because they currently can not crack them, not because they already can.

    • landon says:

      Given what I’ve seen in the cracking community over the past few years, I really don’t doubt the USG’s ability to get into an earlier version of iOS. This is political posturing.

      Agreed that the USG wants a backdoor everywhere.

  3. Eric says:

    My understanding is that the software encryption keys are mingled (hashed, xored, concatenated?) with another key that’s stored in hardware.

    So by pulling the flash chips off the board, you now go from having to brute-force a PIN to having to brute-force a random-looking AES key.

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