Internet privacy activist and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has come out in favor of Tim Cook’s decision to deny a federal court judge’s request that Apple help the FBI hack the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone 5c.
Snowden is calling Apple’s battle over security the most important tech case in a decade, and has called out Google for not coming to the public’s side on the issue. In a series of tweets expounding on the issues, Snowden said the FBI’s efforts to force Apple to give them a key bypasses citizen’s ability to defend their rights.
Snowden’s support for Apple isn’t much of a surprise, however, some organizations like the Wall Street Journal are deriding Tim Cook’s decision, claim Tim Cook’s decision could ultimately do more damage than good. Christopher Mims argues that Apple isn’t being asked to create a backdoor that anyone could use, so the company should capitulate to the fed’s demands.
The FBI’s demands aren’t just about one iPhone 5c though. The agency is hoping to set a legal precedence using a law that’s over 200 years old in order to force tech companies to build master keys for law enforcement to use at will. Even if those keys are only used one device at a time, it paves the way for officials to request more and more access to devices.
There might be other way the FBI could unlock the iPhone 5c. Hackers created a $300 machine last year that can bruce force unlock any iPhone PIN in 4.5 days, as long as it’s a 4 digit pin and the device runs iOS 8. Other iOS developers have suggested it could be possible to use other exploits to unlock the device.
The line between ‘just this one time’ and a permanent backdoor is dangerously thin. Developer Marco Arment summed up the FBI’s intentions well in a blog post this afternoon, claiming they’re being used “as an excuse to establish precedent and permanent backdoors for themselves so they can illegally spy on anyone’s data whenever they please. They’re shamelessly using a horrible tragedy to get themselves more power.”
The point of Tim Cook’s appeal isn’t that Apple doesn’t want to unlock this particular iPhone 5c. Apple knows that if the FBI gets their demands this time there will be no stopping the demands in the future. It’s not worried about a single version of the firmware possibly getting leaked (though it is a big risk) as much as it’s concerned that it will eventually be forced by the feds to do this so often, and then it will be all too easy for anyone to acquire hacked firmware.