An iPhone Miracle?

On March 29, the U.S. Department of Justice revoked its lawsuit against Apple. The DOJ had been demanding that Apple develop a tool to override an iPhone’s security without compromising the data it contained. Then, unexpectedly, the FBI got its hands on some kind of technology that allows them to remove this security on their own.

Let me briefly go over the events of this drama: On Dec. 2, 2015 at 10:59 a.m., a couple of Pakistani descent opened fire with semi-automatic rifles and pistols at the Inland Regional Center in the American city of San Bernardino, California. Fourteen people were killed, and 21 injured. The attackers themselves were also killed. Investigators got their hands on a password-protected iPhone 5c belonging to one of the terrorists. The investigators wanted to remove the password in order to search the device for possible traces of contacts the killers may have had with the Islamic State.

But here’s the trouble: After several scandals involving the Internet publication of intimate photographs from the text messages of stars and politicians, Apple has created a safeguard for its device that even Apple itself can’t breach (or so they claim). In order to spare our readers the technical details, I will only say that if the phone has a password, then the data is encrypted. The password itself is encrypted, and the key is only stored on the phone. As such, any sorting through passwords can only be done on the device itself. The password is encrypted several times, and it takes about 80 milliseconds to check one password. Therefore, to check all possible 6-digit passwords would take more than five years. At the same time, the iOS operating system increases the response time after every incorrect password entry. After three incorrect attempts, it blocks the device for a few minutes. After 10 incorrect attempts (if this option is turned on), it wipes all data from the phone.

Since the FBI didn’t know exactly which options were activated, experiments with the password-protected phone could have endangered the information. So the security services turned to Apple.

The company said that the data couldn’t be decrypted without the password. They couldn’t give any other answer — otherwise, that would mean that Apple phones are unprotected. Then, the FBI turned to the Justice Department, which filed a lawsuit demanding that Apple create a special program that would allow them to gain access to the data on the phone without a password.

The situation got so bad that the head of Apple, Tim Cook, wrote a special address to users of the company’s products, in which he justified his refusal in plain speech about how we must fight terrorism, but that users’ rights come first. Furthermore, if a tool for breaking into an iPhone is created, then that would mean it can be done, and no one can guarantee that such a tool wouldn’t be created by someone else. Twitter, Google and Facebook supported Apple. Digital-rights advocacy group Fight for the Future announced worldwide protests in support of Apple’s position.

What happened next was surprising. A few hours before the trial set for March 22 convened to hear the issue, the Justice Department suddenly requested to delay the trial. They justified their request by stating that the FBI may have gotten its hands on a technology that would allow them to get around the encryption without Apple. A week later, it was announced that the method worked, and the Justice Department cancelled its lawsuit.

What an amazing coincidence, don’t you think? And just who might the secret hacker be that managed to do what Apple itself resisted?

I’d venture a guess that his name is well-known. Tim Cook was faced with a tough choice. He could have dragged things out, but then the iPhone would have become the main method of communication for terrorists, since now, the whole world knows that its encryption is secure. And who knows, maybe public opinion might turn against Apple if an iPhone is involved after another bloody terror attack. That’s possible even if Apple wins the case. “Apple supports terrorists” is the stuff of nightmares.

The second option was to lose the case and create a program that would mean a betrayal of its users and an admission that Apple products aren’t protected from hackers. Apple’s reputation would have taken a huge hit.

The third option was to give the security services the tool they wanted in secret and announce that Apple will strengthen security measures to ensure the iPhone’s trustworthiness after the existence of the tool is revealed. After the security measures are strengthened, Apple would then quietly hand the security services an even stronger tool without any fuss or lawsuits.

The advantage of the third option over the second is clear: Users would be nervous until the release of the next version of iOS, and then they would calm down. They would remain calm until someone overcame that version’s security (since now it’s known to be possible). Apple would then strengthen it again.

You’re probably saying this is a conspiracy theory. Maybe, but after it came out that Google, which supported Apple in its fight, created a tool for the Department of State that allowed them to spread propaganda to Syrian soldiers encouraging them to defect, it’s completely impossible to believe that a secret hacker delivered the revolutionary technology to the FBI right before the trial.

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