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Why Apple is right to fight FBI over iPhone access

Rob Enderle | Feb. 22, 2016
Columnist Rob Enderle is not an Apple fan, however, he backs Tim Cook’s efforts to prevent the FBI from creating a security key that could access all iPhones. Here’s why such a key could potentially do billions of dollars of damage.

I’m not exactly known as a huge fan of Apple. In fact, for nearly a decade and half I’ve refused to use their products and I’m supposedly banned for life from Apple’s properties. It’s definitely personal between me and that company, so for me to come to Apple’s defense takes some kind of cataclysmic event.

The fight between Apple and the FBI absolutely qualifies as such an event for me. Regardless of how you feel about Tim Cook and Apple, you should be behind Cook’s efforts to prevent the FBI from forcing the creation of what could effectively be a Master Key into all iPhones. Not only that, it could become the legal foundation to create a similar key for all U.S.-based technology.  

While this would be great for overseas competitors, it really isn’t a good thing for us.  

Let me explain.

The government’s simple request

The request seems simple, all the government is asking for is a tool that will allow someone to disable the feature that wipes an iPhone after a certain number of login attempts (generally about 11).   There are around 10,000 combinations in a 4-pin security code and with technology you can hit that code on average after about 4,000 tries.   And, with technology, you can automate this process and likely break into any phone within a few hours.  

Right now this technology doesn’t exist and there is almost no way to create it unless you had access to the source code of the iPhone and had some way to update the phone centrally without the user’s involvement. This means that it is likely only Apple could create what is effectively a master key to all iPhones. The problem is the “all” part.

Once this key is created it can be used on any iPhone owned by anyone (note that even the President’s kids have iPhones). Given the level of publicity there is virtually no way to even attempt to seriously keep the creation of this key confidential.  

That key could be used to open any iPhone owned by any government official, including the U.S. President or any FBI agent that used one, any CEO or any employee who used one, any child or parent, or any police officer who had an iPhone. The black market value of such a key would be astronomical. Could you imagine what China or Russia might pay for this key alone let alone any criminal organization?

There would simply be no way to keep this method secured for any significant period of time. Think of this in terms of liability because these folks all want to do us harm in some way. The potential damage against all iPhone users could easily reach into the high billions. So, how can the need to hack one phone justify such a massive exposure?  


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