Apple will not comply with the order of a federal US judge, that had obliged the company to cooperate with the FBI and decrypt an iPhone which had belonged to the San Bernardino shooter.
In an open letter on the company’s website, Apple CEO, Tim Cook said his company rejects the federal order, not only because it would undermine the customers’ trust in Apple and their products, but also because it would set a dangerous precedent. Cook said:
We are challenging the FBI's demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. 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.
The court had ordered Apple to assist the FBI by unlocking, or at least modifying the operating system on the iPhone, so that FBI investigators could get at the data on the phone. Since the second half of 2014 Apple has enabled encryption by default on all of its iOS devices, without the company holding on to the encryption keys. This means that not even Apple employees can decrypt an iPhone even when mandated to do so, in a case such as this. The owner’s passcode is the only way to unlock the device, and if the wrong passcode is entered ten times in a row the device automatically wipes itself. The security and privacy measure was put in place after revelations from Edward Snowden with regards to the extent that the US government spies on its citizens.
However, the FBI is asking Apple to collaborate in different ways if decrypting the data is not a viable alternative. Those different ways include asking Apple to install a modified version of iOS on the device that would allow unlimited passcode tries, as well as creating a tool that would automatically enter passcodes without the need for them to be typed in manually. The FBI is going for what’s called a “brute force” attack where all possible passcodes would be entered until the correct one is found. With a four-digit code that means 10,000 possible combinations.
Still, according to its public statements, Apple will not comply with either of these requests, though the company doesn’t actually say if they’re technically feasible or not. It’s unclear what the FBI and the US government’s next moves will be, but Apple is bound to face an uphill battle in defending its users’ privacy and security.