Right now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying very hard to convince everyone that it has no other options than to compel Apple to help it access an iPhone they believe might hold sensitive data on it.
Apple, going as far as to fight a court order that told the company to help the FBI, doesn’t see the situation playing out in the same way the Department of Justice does. What’s more, a plethora of companies involved in the technology market have stepped up to support Apple recently, with more probably coming down the pipe.
Now, Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency whistleblower, has come forward and made his own comments regarding the FBI’s claim that the agency has no other avenues to unlock the iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters at San Bernardino last year. Simply put, he says, “Respectfully, that’s bullshit,” in regards to the FBI’s statement that only Apple has the “exclusive technical means” to access the iPhone 5c in question.
Snowden would even add on Twitter that the “global technological consensus is against the FBI,” and linked to a blog post he wrote for the Civil Liberties Union website. In the blog post, Snowden details “one example” of how the FBI could access the iPhone 5c without the assistance of Apple. Moreover, this method, while not as trivial as it might read, is an option that, based on the FBI’s demands of Apple, doesn’t seem to have been considered or tried. Instead, the FBI is apparently seeking, what those involved probably thought at the time, was the easiest path to the solution it wants.
As for the method that Snowden outlines, here’s how it breaks down, utilizing a method that would have the FBI actually remove the chip from the iPhone 5c, connect it to another device, and then try to unlock the stored data from there:
“The FBI can simply remove this chip from the circuit board (“desolder” it), connect it to a device capable of reading and writing NAND flash, and copy all of its data. It can then replace the chip, and start testing passcodes. If it turns out that the auto-erase feature is on, and the Effaceable Storage gets erased, they can remove the chip, copy the original information back in, and replace it. If they plan to do this many times, they can attach a “test socket” to the circuit board that makes it easy and fast to do this kind of chip swapping.
If the FBI doesn’t have the equipment or expertise to do this, they can hire any one of dozens of data recovery firms that specialize in information extraction from digital devices.”
You can read Snowden’s full breakdown right here.
Options appear to exist, even if some of them are pretty extreme and could take a long time to work — if they work at all. Snowden’s route seems like it should have been one the Justice Department immediately tried, long before they went down the route where they try to force a company to create a backdoor in their software used by millions of people.
What do you think of Snowden’s idea?[The Intercept; ACLU]