Does the FBI really need Apple’s help?


Photo courtesy of Wired.

Prayag Bhakar, Tech Editor

Recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reached out to Apple in order to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorist. Apple cooperated and gave the FBI the iCloud back ups of the iPhone; however, these backups were made six weeks before the attack, and the FBI wants to access the information stored offline on the iPhone. In response to the FBI’s request to unlock the phone, Apple publicly refused to make a backdoor, or a special pathway to get into a device, for the government and emphasized that such an exploit, or hack, does not exist.

However, the problem at hand is not about Apple unlocking a phone. Rather, it is the government trying to force Apple to create new software that allows their product to be hacked. Supporters of the case say the software will only be used once and can only work on this one phone, but that simply is not the case.

Such software cannot be limited to one phone. Instead, it will be able to unlock any iPhone, including the 12 other iPhones that have concurrent court cases. By turning off the security feature that makes the user wait after a certain amount of wrong attempts, the FBI would be able to try every single possible combination of numbers to get into any phone that they want. This security breach would go against the core principles of Apple and undermine the years of work and development that went into encrypting their products.

Apple is not alone in this argument. Many tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have publicly supported Apple, as the FBI might also force these companies to create backdoors into their products.  Nevertheless, simply ending the discussion there and waiting for the court battle to play out would not be productive.

In fact, there already are exploits for Apple products. There are even events and bounties for hacking Apple products to find these various loopholes. For example, Zerodium, a new controversial hacking company, offered a one million dollar bounty for an exploit for iOS 9. Granted that these exploits go directly to Apple for them to be fixed, there are many found at each event.

Jailbreaking, an exploit that allows users to install a third party app store and grant more customization to their device, and has been around ever since the first release of the iPhone. What’s more is that the jailbreak is publicly available and even works on iOS 9. If a tool like this is available to everyone, shouldn’t the government already have a way to get into the iPhone?

Apple is completely justified in denying help to the FBI, as it goes against the product that they want to sell. The FBI has plenty of other means of getting the information, including buying an exploit from another hacking group or company, but forcing Apple to break their product is not one of them.