Who lost it – Apple or FBI?

It was the evening of 29th of March 2016 that I came across my recent favorite – FBI v/s Apple Case… It was resolved! Well, of course, I had to give it a read…

Before going into the details, let’s see what it was all about…

December 2015, San Bernardino, California, shooters kill 14 people along with injuring 22. An iPhone 5C was recovered from one of the shooters… Now, before we carry on with the unfortunate happening, you should know what are the rules regarding going through a person’s mobile phone, laptop etc. For your information, these things are grouped under digital evidence. Why? Because you can find out a lot of information about a person from his/her mobile. It’s not just about his/her contact list, or messages… It’s about digital footprints, softwares installed, data transferred and a lot more. Just so you know, digital footprints are basically the trail that you ‘unintentionally’ leave when you visit a website. This information proves critical for Behavioral Units to come up with a profile of the involved criminal.

Coming back to where we left, according to the modified Federal laws, a Police Officer cannot just go and search a laptop or mobile of a suspect unless he/she has a search warrant signed by the correct authority. Yeah! You read it right… Digital evidence has to be treated with as much respect and care as just any other evidence. After all, there is a whole procedure of Digital Forensics to be used on it.

Anyways, FBI had the warrant and everything to search for the iPhone they had recovered… But they couldn’t do so… Not that they won’t but they couldn’t… As per a statement given by FBI Officer, FBI couldn’t crack the phone and obtain the data… Now, FBI basically gave a sweet to Apple to jump on and GOD! They didn’t miss it… Apple which had previously claimed that their iPhone was impossible to crack had just obtained an endorsement from FBI. Now, the court ordered Apple several times to provide a signed software to FBI or to help them out in cracking the security… But the issue was, as per Apple, no such software existed which could bypass the security settings installed in the iPhone5C!! Now, what to do?!?!?

Well, let’s take a break and try to understand why FBI couldn’t use Brute-Force method to crack open the iPhone. Brute Force Method is a method in which a hacker tries every single possible password (or something similar) till he/she arrives at the correct password. Of course, it’s not efficient and is a lot time consuming, but it was a solution… So, why not go for it? Well, there’s a valid justification. iPhone5C had an auto-erase functions installed in it which would automatically delete all the data stored inside the system thus protecting the privacy of the owner. Now, the reason for coming up with such a feature had a good intention behind it. Imagine if your phone is stolen and it has all your bank details, Aadhar Number (or Social Security Number), then you are a potential victim of Identity Theft. To give you an idea of just how big of a threat it is… According to FBI, a large portion of e-crimes conducted are Identity Thefts. Think of it like this, two persons living at different places, but with same name, same details.. Basically everything is same.. Now, if one of them carries out a crime, the Police will come banging your door with an arrest warrant… This is how serious it is… iPhone 5C’s security features were a great way of preventing these kind of crimes…

Now, let’s come back to our story… So, Apple had been asked to crack the system.. But, you know what? They said NO!!! And the reason was perfectly right in my opinion… They said that if we come up with a software or program which will crack the iPhone then if it falls into wrong hands, then it will basically open the path of cracking a large number of devices out there! Being a successful company means you have earned your customers’ trust… And coming up with something will mean essentially that you are giving away the customer’s info… They wouldn’t do that!

And thus started the war between National security and Information privacy..What matters more?

The topic was still a hotspot when the news came that FBI had, without the help of Apple, cracked the iPhone… Of course, they claimed that they had help from some third party… But, the phone was cracked! So, what can we, as the users of a similar device, infer? Is the iPhone not actually as safe as we thought it to be? Is our information really not safe? Well, Apple can still do damage control by mentioning that even though iPhone 5C had some security features but it didn’t have all the features that are present in the new iPhones… Whatever they will come up with, the fact is that iPhone 5C is NOT impossible to crack!!!

Even though the case has now been resolved, the basic question still remains – What matters more and Who actually lost?

With this question, I end my article… Stay safe!

About the author:

Vishwesh Shrimali is an Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at BITS Pilani. He fulfilsvish about all the requirements not taught in his branch- white hat hacker, network security operator, and an ex – Competitive Programmer. As a firm believer in power of Python, his majority work has been in the same language. Whenever he get some time apart from programming, attending classes, watching CSI Cyber, he go for a long walk and play guitar in silence. His motto of life is – “Enjoy your life, ‘cause it’s worth enjoying!”

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