Tami Abdollah and Eric Tucker, for the Associated Press:
A U.S. magistrate ordered Apple Inc. on Tuesday to help the Obama administration hack into an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in the December attack in San Bernardino, California, in a first-of-its-kind ruling that pits digital privacy against national security interests.
The ruling by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, a former federal prosecutor, requires Apple to supply highly specialized software the FBI can load onto the county-owned work iPhone to bypass a self-destruct feature, which erases the phone’s data after too many unsuccessful attempts to unlock it. The FBI wants to be able to try different combinations until it finds the right one.
Back in September, some of Apple’s encryption features were put to a legal test, but that seems to have largely revolved around the security of iCloud Backups. This appears to be something entirely different, as the phone was backed-up to iTunes, according to the article.
So let’s look at the possibilities. What if Apple can comply? That would fly in the face of pretty much everything they’ve said publicly on the matter, and would seriously harm their reputation on matters of security.
Or, conversely, what if this is — as Apple has repeatedly said — not technically possible? What if they truly have built a system so secure that they do not have a “back door” and disable its automatic erase feature? Tim Cook has held a very firm stance that he will not accept any attempt to undermine the integrity of any of Apple’s services or software. What if this demand is, quite simply, impossible?