Apple just became one of my favorite companies.
As reported by NBC News, “A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Apple to give investigators access to encrypted data on the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, assistance the computer giant ‘declined to provide voluntarily,’ according to court papers. “
This of course is wildly misleading. Reading the article you might infer that the Federal court is ordering Apple to disable or unlock the Apple iPhone. The news is wrong. When Apple built their encryption, they built it right. End to end encryption per device using AES 256. You simply cannot “hack” your way into this implementation. The FBI knows this.
Despite what many in the news are reporting, the Feds are not asking Apple to break their own encryption and unlock the device. They are instead asking Apple to disable some of the security features that help prevent brute force attacks against the encryption.
A brute force attack tries every possible combination. This is a common method used in password cracking. If given the opportunity it will eventually get the job done. Unfortunately for the FBI, Apple did not give the opportunity to exploit the iPhone this way. After every passcode attempt Apple initiates a time-delay before being allowed to retry. The first four attempts are free. After things get significantly more costly time wise.. You will wait up to an hour by your ninth attempt. To complicate things further, if the owner of the iPhone enabled the Erase Data feature, the device will automagically wipe after 10 consecutive attempts. [Settings > Touch ID & Passcode > Erase Data].
What the FBI is requesting Apple to do is akin to side-loading an OS feature to disable these built in features that protect the iPhone from these kind of attacks. I do not even believe it is possible for Apple to do this. It seems to me that Apple would not have designed iOS in such a way that allows this kind of ‘man-in-the-middle’ phish attack. MDM is not enabled by default on consumer devices. You need to opt-in to allow management of your iPhone remotely. If it was enabled by default it seems to me that would be a pretty obvious attack vector.
At the end of the day, the FBI is grasping both on the technical level and on the legal aspect. Apple will certainly not be forced to break the security of their device… And for this Apple has earned my highest regards. - M.
EDIT: Tim Cook has released a very public response to the federal order.
A Message to Our Customers
The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.
This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake…