The San Bernardino District Attorney has told a federal judge that the iPhone used by shooter Syed Farook could be a trigger for a “cyber pathogen.” Michael Ramos is concerned that the device has the potential to damage San Bernardino County’s infrastructure.
“The iPhone is a county owned telephone that may have connected to the San Bernardino County computer network,” Ramos explained in a court filing. “The seized iPhone may contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino’s infrastructure.”
This is the first time a law enforcement official has provided any indication of what the FBI may discover on this device, which Apple refuses to unlock using new iOS firmware that would have to be specially built with a backdoor, potentially putting millions of iPhone users at risk.
David Wert, a spokesman for San Bernardino County, would not echo Ramos’ concerns. “The county didn’t have anything to do with this brief,” he said in a statement to Ars Technica. “It was filed by the district attorney.”
The DA’s office followed up that filing with a statement that insists there is “compelling governmental interest in acquiring any evidence of criminal conduct, additional perpetrators, potential damage to the infrastructure of San Bernardino County, and in protecting the California Constitutionally guaranteed due process rights of the victims, deceased and living, arising from state crimes committed on December 2, 2015.”
Others aren’t so concerned, or indeed convinced by Ramos’ claims. Jonathan Zdziarski, an iPhone forensics expert, told Ars that the DA is suggesting that the iPhone may contain a “magical unicorn.” He added that the scenario Ramos is describing has never been seen before.
“It sounds like he’s making up these terms as he goes. We’ve never used these terms in computer science.” Zdziarski suggests that Ramos is attempting to mislead the courts into “acting irrationally” and siding with the FBI over Apple.
Apple continues to fight a court request to unlock the iPhone used by Farook, and the case could end up in the Supreme Court. In the meantime, Apple’s battle has been backed by peers like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more.