John McAfee: Apple won’t like FBI’s iPhone ‘universal master key’


Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 08.37.43
John McAfee has previously offered to help decrypt information on the San Bernardino iPhone.
Photo: CNBC

Cybersecurity legend John McAfee has denied suggestions that he’s helping the FBI to crack the iPhone at the center of the San Bernardino shooting case, but hinted that he knows which party is involved. And, according to McAfee, it’s not good news for Apple.

“Apple and Tim Cook are not going to be happy with what the FBI has come up with,” he told CNBC in an interview. “It’s not worse than a universal master key, but it’s much much easier to get into a phone with it.”

McAfee didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the solution, but added that he’s “not fond of it.” He says that, after the FBI saw that Apple wasn’t going to comply with its demands, despite having the technical means, it figured “hackers can do it, and that’s what’s happened here.”

McAfee has previously offered to help the FBI free of charge in decrypting the information stored on terrorist iPhones — although he says he is opposed to creating a backdoor for all iOS devices. As he wrote on Tech Insider: “We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks [to come up with a solution]. If [the FBI] accept my offer, then [they] will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.”

Ominous warnings about iPhone hacking aside, McAfee also talked about a longer-term way that phones can be intercepted in his CNBC interview. Specifically, he describes a phone tracker called stingray, which masks itself by pretending to be a cellphone tower, which then lets it connect directly with smartphones. Once this is achieved, it sends an update which appears to be a legitimate software update, but allows phones to be intercepted from within half a mile, while user locations can be tracked, and messages can be read in real-time as they’re being typed.

Following yesterday’s tragic terrorist attack at Brussels Airport, McAfee suggests that similar technology is sent over to Belgium for deployment.



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  • Bri

    Be interested to see Apples response if they find iPhones linked to what happened in Brussel’s yesterday.

    • Jurassic

      We know that the terrorists used “burner” phones. Since iPhones are high end, and too expensive to throw away as burners, the phones the terrorists used were more likely cheap Android phones.

      Since Android phones are the likely culprits “linked to what happened in Brussel’s yesterday”, would you support having the security removed from the Android OS so that they can be easily broken into by the FBI (and criminals) in the future?

  • Stephen Bradley

    John McAfee is a coked-out lunatic who has destroyed most of his working brain cells while burning through most of his cash. His lack of understanding of the problem is demonstrated in the single statement about how he’d break into the iPhone himself in 3 weeks using primarily “social engineering”, despite the fact that everyone who might be expected know the phone passcode are very, very dead.

    If he’s a “legend” in cyber security (I don’t know anyone in the field who would say that, and I’ve spent 30 years in I.T and I.S) it is for the work his company did, not his personal amazingness.

    Whatever the FBI has up it’s sleeve here, is probably irrelevant. It might be used to bust open this phone, but it’s unlikely to work on the newer models that are rapidly becoming the norm. John should calm down, go have some more blow, and stick to teaching yoga, hanging out with strippers, or whatever he’s doing these days.

    • The Pool Man

      It doesn’t help that he looks like a Vegas killer.

  • SpinalTap

    I’m seriously surprised you are giving a forum to this guy. He lost all credibility when he fled Belize on suspicion of murder and more recently was charged with drunk driving in Tennessee.

    • Greg_the_Rugger

      This is COM. It is all about the number of clicks.

  • Jerry Mcardle

    Just think NSA, ,State dept, pentagon , etc. any agency that requires cell phones to be turned off and left outside , this allows Iran, ISIS . Russia, China , North Korea, etc to to use a stingray to obtain a list of all the phones being turned off and thus the phones numbers of government employees in intelligence jobs . It is easy use public sources like “been verified ” . etc to get the name ,address ,credit history etc . looking for those in financial trouble . imagine what they can do with military grade software . More to worry about than apple Iphones . Just tax an additional $200 for each encrypted Iphone as a start.

  • Gradus Quia

    So Apple’s encryption security was that bad that it could be hacked upon request by a third party, and in just a few weeks? Seems like neither Tim Cook’s product nor his integrity were worth defending in court.

    • STL

      or the FBI is blowing smoke because they realized they’d lose in court.

    • Jurassic

      There are two possible methods for breaking into the iPhone. The first is to use chip decapping to physically reveal the passcode. The second, a lower-risk method would be to desolder the flash memory and reset the counter between attempts by copying the original data back to it.

      The first method can easily destroy the chip, losing everything, so it is not a good method to try.

      The second method could take years to work, due to the delay between tries (you can’t use zero seconds between tries) and the time it takes to restore the flash drive after each ninth try fails.

      I call bull on this whole FBI “discovery” (and McAfee’s hollow boasts). It is purely their way of finding an excuse to bow out of a case that they knew they couldn’t win.

      The FBI will not be reviving this fight with Apple in the future.

  • chas_m

    Faces of meth (or in this case, “bath salts”). And the credibility of someone like that.

  • Craig

    Why do you need a fake cell tower to deliver a software update? (Which would need to be signed by apple by the way)


    McAfee may be eccentric but don’t underestimate him. He is also a cyber security genius. Also, since the iPhone regularly backs up all data to the cloud unless this feature is disabled by the user, I’d assume the FBI has already tried simply hacking into the user’s apple account and/or asking Apple to provide them with the user’s account password? Then all the data could simply be cloned to a new iPhone just like when you upgrade your iPhone and restore all your data from the cloud via your apple account. Surely a lot easier than the other options being discussed.

  • Bob Forsberg

    ” McAfee suggests that similar technology is sent over to Belgium for deployment.” There it is, everything Apple attempted to stop. It’s not a backdoor but we Americans must understand giving our confidential intelligence away for any reason will be self destructive.

  • I have seen the Carrier Settings Update that pushes to our phones. I always hit no when I see that pop up.