The FBI according to numerous reports say they now have an alternative method to break into the iPhone of a suspected terrorist which could mean they may not need Apple after all.
Just a quick recap for those who aren’t up to date with the case. There was an attack in San Bernardino in the US. This happened in December and lives were lost including those of the suspects. The FBI as part of its investigative duty was a able to recover the iPhone of one of the suspected masterminds. The phone is locked and the FBI has petitioned Apple to open the phone in order for them to carry out their duties. Apple has since said they don’t have such existing software to do this even as manufacturers of the product. This has led to law suits and counter suits since and just when both parties were due in court again, the FBI notified the court that they now had a possible alternative to unlocking the phone without Apple’s help. They now have till the 5th of April to report back to the court if they were still interested in the law suit or if they have indeed found an alternative. Tech companies have all come out to defend Apple as they all have taken steps to step up encryption and close so called back doors into their servers which the government had exploited in the past. This all came after the Snowden revelations.
That said, yesterday security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski outlined possible methods the FBI may explore in carrying this out. He particularly made reference to a mirroring technique known as NAND whereby thousands of copies of the iPhone storage chip could be made. “Most of the tech experts I’ve heard from believe the same as I do – that NAND mirroring is likely being used to some degree to brute force the pin on the device. “This is where the NAND chip is typically desoldered, dumped into a file (likely by a chip reader/programmer, which is like a cd burner for chips), and then copied so that if the device begins to wipe or delay after five or ten tries, they can just re-write the original image back to the chip. This technique is kind of like cheating at Super Mario Bros. with a save-game, allowing you to play the same level over and over after you keep dying. Only instead of playing a game, they’re trying different pin combinations. It’s possible they’ve also made hardware modifications to their test devices to add a socket, allowing them to quickly switch chips out, or that they’re using hardware to simulate this chip so that they don’t have to.”
With that in mind, a successful or unsuccessful breaking of the phone may have some implications like.
Another option according to the Associated Press is “chip de-capping,” calls for physically removing the casing of the iPhone’s processor chip, using acid or a laser drill. In theory, investigators could then connect electronic probes capable of reading the phone’s unique identification code bit by bit from the location where it is “fused” into the phone’s hardware. This method would also have to read the algorithm that combines that code with the user passcode to unlock the phone.
- The iOS 9 may not be as unbreakable as Apple claims if this happens
- Since the said phone is a 5c which is kind of older considering that a new iPhone was launched just this past Monday, Apple could step up the security of its newer products thereby making life more difficult for the FBI in the future.
The FBI is expected to inform the court by the 5th we have learned so we’ll wait and see if they indeed get the lock code they desire.