These days the center of attention in the fight against terrorism in the United States has been taken by an iPhone 5c, which, as you know, had one of the terrorists killed after the attacks that took place in San Bernardino. The authorities in that country have strong suspicions that the terminal may contain a lot of information about their terrorist cell or other organizations involved, and yet there is no way to access it.
The device is blocked and the FBI is afraid to try to access the iPhone using the notorious brute force attack as it suspects that the iPhone may have the automatic deletion of the device activated after ten failed attempts, which would forever remove all traces of information contained. It is for this reason that the authorities have demanded that Apple create a new version of the operating system for them, through which they can open access to the iPhone to investigate its content.
There is no way to access it
It is what Apple defines as a ‘back door’ and would set, in the opinion of Cupertino’s company, a dangerous precedent, since nobody would guarantee that the agency would not take advantage of this access to randomly and uncontrollably investigate conversations, photos and other content that can be stored on any iPhone. In this sense, Tim Cook’s have been the only ones to publicly show their rejection, and the pressure then fell on Google, until Sundar Pichai has been forced to position itself and has done so on Apple’s side.
But this issue has only highlighted two elements: on the one hand Apple’s fierce defense of the privacy of users, a gesture that must be recognized as courageous and certainly not easy, and on the other hand what seems a total invulnerability of the iPhone against the attack of other people’s hands. We must also remember another case, in which the Norwegian police had to wait for the authorization of the judge to force the detainee to unlock his iPhone by means of TouchID, since they were incapable.
An armored mobile
The second part is the most striking: Apple actually created an armored mobile that could only be accessed by its owner on a voluntary basis. The firm has provided the platform with 256-bit AES encryption, so it would take “several lives” to access its content through a brute-force attack. On the other hand, Apple erases all traces of the iPhone keys that leave the factory, so that even if the FBI carried the encrypted content of a terminal, it would be impossible for Californians to unlock it.
Apple was clear from iOS 8 that the only way to ensure the privacy of the user with their terminals was that absolutely no one other than the owner could access the iPhone, not even themselves.
For this reason, the authorities in charge of investigating the events in San Bernardino, have chosen to try to overcome the blocking code of the famous iPhone 5c, and here they find another layer of protection: Apple has foreseen the brute force attacks and protects itself from them by providing the iPhone with a delay of up to one hour if it is attempted to access failedly several times, and what worries the FBI most, the possible deletion of the content if the user has so configured it. Faced with this scenario, the agency has chosen to surrender to the armor and ask Apple for help, whose answer, you know.
The FBI wants to slip through the only crack
Apple made it clear from iOS 8 that the only way to ensure user privacy with their handsets was that absolutely no one other than the owner could access the iPhone, not even themselves. And they’ve partly achieved this: accessing the encrypted content of an iPhone is virtually impossible, but the FBI has found a loophole that could get through. The agency has asked Apple to disable the defense layer that creates a delay in the first place and erases the content in the second, so that they can access it by brute force.
Can Apple technically do this? The answer is yes. The idea would be to develop a parallel version of iOS, with Apple’s legitimate signature, which would be installed after putting the device into DFU mode and thus introduce the new firmware that removes these layers of protection. Experts say that despite this, accessing the iPhone would not be easy, but it would be the only way to access a mobile that has turned out to be completely armored.