The Apple iPhone 6: It’s a little bit big for some people, but when you hold one in your hand, you know it’s one solid high-tech device. The common perception is that inside it’s all magic, technology and stuff way too confusing for anyone to understand. But that’s not true. What’s also not true is Apple’s assertion that unlocking one specific phone will immediately allow every terrorist, hacker and miscreant to unlock any iPhone ever sold.
Apple iPhone Unlock Just One
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI have petitioned the Court to force Apple to unlock exactly one specific phone. It’s an infamous phone at that. It’s the phone that was in the possession of the male terrorist that executed 14 people in San Bernardino last year. It wasn’t actually his phone either. It was owned by his employer, the City of San Bernardino. But it does potentially have very important information about his activities, co-conspirators and even potential sleeper terrorists still here in the USA. And the US Government wants help getting it unlocked so they can access and use that information.
The limit of the FBI’s petition is very clear. They do not want the ability to unlock any phone. They don’t even want Apple to build in some sort of “Back Door” as has been incorrectly repeated all over the Internet. What they want is for Apple to help them access the data contained on this one specific phone, in this one specific situation … and nothing more. The Judge in the case agreed with the FBI and granted their petition. Apple however has turned it into a virtual firestorm by declaring it as an attack on our right to privacy. But they’re wrong.
What Is An iPhone?
Before we can dig too deep into the issue, we have to explain the Apple iPhone in very non-technical terms. Once you understand the insides, you will also understand how Apple can obey the Judge’s ruling and live up to their American Corporate responsibilities.
Inside an iPhone are two basic parts. One part contains the “Brains” that does all the actual computing work. Think of it like a short-order cook. When a new order comes around on the wheel, the cook makes the food listed on the order. The cook has no idea what people want, in fact doesn’t care what they want. All the cook knows is “see order, make food”.
The second part, the part that the FBI and DOJ want to access, is the “Memory” of the iPhone. It has all the personal information, phone numbers, messages, apps … everything that makes an iPhone unique. It’s also what makes the terrorist’s phone so important. The Memory is like the food stores in the restaurant. Each restaurant has its own selection of meats, vegetables and other ingredients. Just like an Italian restaurant will have different foods than a Chinese restaurant, each iPhone has different information stored in its Memory.
iPhone Security – The Root of the Problem
Most every mobile phone made since the beginning had some form of security. The most simple and common simply required you to enter a PIN or passcode in order to use the phone. But with the iPhone 6, Apple added a feature that completely erases the Memory if the wrong passcode is entered more than 10 times. It’s called the “Erase Data Function“. It’s a good feature, as long as you want to keep your information absolutely and irrevocably private. Not such a good idea when the Government needs to access it.
Breaking the Apple iPhone Security
Remember that the iPhone is two distinct and separate parts: Brains and Memory. When you enter a passcode, you are talking to the Brains. It checks with the Memory to make sure the proper passcode was entered. But if you try a wrong passcode too many times, the Brains completely destroys the Memory. That’s like the cook throwing away all the food in the restaurant if you order the wrong thing too many times.
Breaking the security then is a simple matter of switching out the Brains. Apple can replace it with a special version, a one-time never released version of the Brains that has been modified just for the one single iPhone in question. It won’t become a part of every iPhone. If Apple can keep it secure the same way they keep their other proprietary information secret, it will never see the light of day. But it will allow the FBI to break the security on the terrorist’s iPhone.
The simplest method is to increase the number of allowed attempts to infinity. In other words, no matter how many times you try a wrong passcode, the Brains won’t destroy the Memory. The DOJ and FBI can then use a standard “Brute Force” method to unlock the phone. Once they find the right passcode, they can download the data and then destroy the phone. End of security risk. End of terrorist privacy. End of the continuing threat to our Nation posed by that one iPhone.
Future Exposure and Risk to Privacy
Apple’s position is that if they obey the Court Order and create a method to allow cracking open the terrorist’s iPhone, they will also expose every iPhone owner to hackers or even government spying. They claim that once done, it will somehow become common knowledge. Then no one will ever be safe again. That’s malarkey of the highest order.
What little is known now by the world at large about the Brains of the iPhone has been learned by determined hackers with an iPhone in their hands. They have diligently pulled apart the phone and studied it in every way possible. But what they have not succeeded in doing is learning or changing the way the iPhone stores its security and passcode information. That’s because it is very tightly locked up inside the Brains. And Apple, for their part, have managed to keep the exact content of the Brains totally secret … even though there are millions of the devices out in the hands of other people. Other very determined people with technical skill enough to hack or crack it if they could. But they can’t.
If Apple has managed to keep the contents of their standard iPhone Brains so secret. why do they believe they won’t be able to keep the contents of the one and only one specially modified iPhone secret? Why are they insisting that the invention of the special Brains will mysteriously escape their control, especially when they have so clearly managed to keep the standard Brains so secret?
Risks to America from the Apple iPhone
The Apple iPhone is a very wonderful device. Apple has managed to invent something that is very much loved and appreciated by the many law-abiding citizens that own one. But the level of security and privacy it provides are actually a great risk to our Nation. Privacy is a good thing when used lawfully and responsibly. But as with anything else in the world, some people will use it in dangerous or illegal ways. When they do, our Government should have the ability to stop them. The only way to stop the San Bernardino terrorists is to learn the secrets hidden inside their Apple iPhone then use that info to stop any future attacks.
If Apple refuses to allow our Government to employ legal and Constitutionally protected methods to stop similar terrorists then the Apple iPhone turns from a convenient device into a weapon. As a weapon, especially a weapon that is used to such terrible ends, it will need to be controlled and even possibly outlawed. That’s not an extreme view. The terrorist’s Apple iPhone was just as much involved in the killing of 14 innocent people as were the guns and bullets.
Apple Must Do The Right Thing
Apple has been under fire many times before for parking large cash profits in offshore accounts. They are already suspected of using shady accounting practices to avoid lawful taxes on those profits. If they refuse to do the Right Thing and do not cooperate with the FBI, they will once again prove they are not beneficial and contributing citizens of the United States. I would hate for that to happen because they have invented some really neat stuff. It would be a shame for their hard work to be banned, regulated or controlled simply because they held on to a lie.