US vs Apple Inc: Who will have the upper hand?


By Advik Gupta 

The United States government is trying to access an Apple iPhone of a shooter named Syed Rizwan Farook in San Bernardino for which it requires Apple Inc.’s help. The government has ordered Apple to develop a special tool which will help it in breaking into the shooter’s iPhone. Apple on the other hand is not complying with the government’s request as such a move will threaten consumer security and would set a dangerous precedent for the future. They are worried that once they create the tool, the system will be compromised and lose its authenticity and there will always be a risk of it getting into the wrong hands. This is not the first time we are witnessing a ‘US vs Apple Inc.’ battle. Even in 2012, there was a suit filed by the United States that alleged Apple Inc. and five book publishing companies of conspiring to raise the price for e-books which was in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The issue is that if the FBI tries to access the iPhone by ‘Brute Force’ i.e. by attempting every possible code combination until the right one is entered, it risks losing the data forever as there is no way to check whether the iPhone 5c in possession with the shooter has the ‘ten-attempt security freeze’ enabled. Even Apple itself cannot provide access due to a random unique key that is generated. Hence FBI wants Apple to develop an OS update which would do away the security measure. Asking Apple to give a tool to bypass it is much more than asking it for a hack into its own software. It also means hurting the Apple brand.

The story takes a new turn as Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower tweets doubting the claims made by FBI that accessing the phone is so necessary. He said that FBI already has the communications records (stored by the service provider) of the suspect and also backups of all the suspect’s data until six weeks before the crime. He also explains that there are other ways of breaking into the device rather than getting a tool made by Apple and undermining its brand, although FBI denies this fact. Also since the iPhone was a government issued work phone (owned by the employee), this makes it highly improbable for Farook to use that phone to coordinate the attacks given that he made sure that he destroyed his personal phone before dying which means that the odds of finding useful information in the iPhone are very less.

Hence the question now is that whether the FBI really needs Apple’s help in breaking the device and even if it does, who will the lawsuit turn out to be in favour of. Here is a 1 minute video explaining FBI’s stand: