Apple versus the FBI: FBI buys zero-day flaw from hackers to hack iPhone

Anthony Caruana
14 April, 2016
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According to a report in The Washington Post, the FBI has enlisted the assistance of hackers who deal in previously unreleased vulnerabilities to access the iPhone 5c of the domestic terrorists who killed 14 people in San Bernardino last December.

Zero-day flaws are traded routinely traded by criminal gangs and other nefarious parties. As these flaws are unreported, companies, such as Apple, are unaware that the flaw exists and, therefore, have not released updates to their software that plugs the breach.

The flaw that the FBI is said to have exploited allowed it to build a piece of hardware that let it crack the iPhone’s four-digit personal identification number without triggering a security feature that would have erased all the data.

The FBI’s use of this technique signals, in my view, a dangerous escalation in the battle between advocates of privacy and law enforcement.

If the report is true – and it’s important to note that this report has not been confirmed by the FBI at this time – it suggests the FBI is prepared to enlist the assistance of criminals in order to breach the privacy of a closed system.

Law enforcement agencies have long used criminals as informants and, after they have completed jail sentences, as consultants. But if they have enlisted the agency of illegal operatives working on the dark web, in this case, it represents an escalation in their quest to overcome the protections many of us rely on with our personal devices.

According to the report, the US Government now has to decide if it will disclose the flaws to Apple. That call is likely to be made by a White House-led group.

3 Comments

3 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Geoffrey Luck says:

    Well good on them. Any port in a storm when Apple put its interests before those of the nation and disgracefully claimed “privacy” concerns.

  2. Brian Chester says:

    Apple is selling products with rock solid encryption to give customers certainty that their use of these devices is secure. Blaming Apple is akin to holding an electricity company to account because crims use power.

  3. Macworld Australia Staff says:

    Apple was not asked by the FBI to break into one iPhopne. Apple was asked by the FBI to write a new piece of software that would allow access to any iPhone 5c the FBI got it hands on.

    Have a look at http://www.macworld.com.au/news/apple-vs-the-fbi-–-a-brief-history-141943/ – in particular how the FBI’s own actions actually made access to the data much harder and how the County of San Bernardino mismanaged the iPhone in question.

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