• FBI Threatens to Demand Apple’s iPhone Source Code, Digital Key

    March 15, 2016

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America


    The FBI on Thursday threatened to raise the stakes in its legal battle with Apple, suggesting it could demand access to the iPhone’s source code and the electronic signature used to verify its software updates.

    Battle Over Encryption

    As part of the ongoing battle between the government and the tech industry over encryption in the United States, the FBI demanded Apple help it defeat the password security features on an iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Specifically, the FBI wants Apple to create a modified version of the iPhone operating software that would allow the FBI to run an unlimited number of brute force attacks against a phone’s password to gain access.

    When Apple refused to assist voluntarily, the FBI went to court, where a U.S. Magistrate Judge cited the 1789 All Writs Act as legal justification to force Apple to comply. Apple is now appealing that court decision.

    FBI Wants It All

    But in a new court filing on Thursday, the FBI said that if it can’t require Apple to create the weakened software, it may demand access to Apple’s actual source code instead. Source code is the programming instructions that run the iPhone, and controls every aspect of the phone’s operation, including security protections.

    The FBI also said it may demand Apple’s signature digital key, which is required to update software on all iPhones. That key is what allows Apple to push out updates with the assurance that only its software will be installed by a phone. With the digital key, the FBI would be able to push out malware and spyware of its own design to any Apple phone worldwide.

    Basically, with the digital key, the FBI would be able to fool technology globally that it “was Apple.” The key is a very powerful tool, to either ensure security, or defeat it.

    The Lavabit Case

    The Apple case is not the first time the government has demanded encryption keys from private businesses.

    In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, the government demanded the digital encryption keys used by a secure email service, Lavabit, alledgedly used by Snowden. Lavabit shut down its services in August 2013 to avoid being forced to compromise user data, with founder Ladar Levison saying at the time: “I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

    Lavabit has filed an amicus brief in support of Apple.

    The FBI’s Threat: Time to Get Scared

    In the Apple case, if the FBI got access to those two items, the source code and the digital key, the Bureau could write a security-weakened version of iOS and install it on any phone they wished. The FBI’s threat was thinly-veiled:

    The FBI itself cannot modify the software on Farook’s iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature,” the agency wrote in its court filing. “The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers.

    Time to get scared.

    The government wants it all — not just your data, but the technical tools and code to control your devices and bypass any security and encryption you or the tech companies might employ. That would be the end of any Fourth Amendment protections left that apply to the digital world.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • rich bauer said...


      Backdoors are useful to sneak inside and plant incriminating evidence.

      03/15/16 9:08 AM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      A few days after the shooting, the FBI ordered someone with access to Farook’s iCloud account to trigger a password reset, hoping to gain access to the phone’s cloud backups. Resetting the password shut off any possibility of triggering more backups to the phone. The FBI says it was an honest mistake.

      The FBI can’t be that incompetent, right? It’s getting to be a pattern.

      Senator Charles Grassley regarding the Anthrax terrorist attack “investigation” –

      “It’s all very suspicious, and you wonder whether or not the F.B.I. doesn’t have something to cover up and that they don’t want to come clean.”

      03/15/16 9:36 AM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      Open your eyes, people. The future is now;

      03/15/16 9:53 AM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      Why the FBI cannot request the NSA to crack the Iphone6:


      The NSA’s ANT division develops implants for mobile phones and SIM cards. One of these is a spyware implant called “DROPOUTJEEP” — designed for the first generation of iPhones — which was still in development in 2008, shortly after the iPhone’s launch. This spyware was to make it possible to remotely download or upload files to a mobile phone.

      Of course, this absolute power would never tend to corrupt…

      03/15/16 10:26 AM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      apologies been out of context here

      Two Hellfire Rockets found in airplane coming from Lebanon to US?


      03/15/16 3:04 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Two Hellfire Rockets found in airplane coming from Lebanon to US?'”

      NRA approved for home defense.

      03/15/16 4:12 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      Rich said:
      “Two Hellfire Rockets found in airplane coming from Lebanon to US?”unquote

      Funny how those particular missiles are mostly sheathed in clear plexiglass, vs the one hanging from the wing of an aircraft. Looks almost as if these were made specifically for weapons trade shows. I mean…why else would they make them so you can see inside?

      Meanwhile, whoever is responsible for getting those on the plane isn’t alone. And, I suspect, they must use an iPhone to communicate. Otherwise.. I’d submit the FBI/NSA/CIA are in Total Fail territory. I mean..Hellfire missiles heading for the US??? ummm.. in my Universe Congress would be dragging the directors into a hearing TODAY. Bet we won’t hear another word about it though. I mean.. can’t embarrass the USG now can we? Nosireeebob. un unh. sheeesusH.. next thing you know a truckload of Mustard gas will show up in WDC.

      03/16/16 7:32 AM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      next thing you know a truckload of Mustard gas will show up in WDC.

      You already experienced anthrax outbreaks

      03/16/16 10:10 AM | Comment Link

    • Links 16/3/2016: GNU Linux-Libre 4.5, NVIDIA Distro Rumours | Techrights said...


      […] FBI Threatens to Demand Apple’s iPhone Source Code, Digital Key […]

      03/16/16 7:40 PM | Comment Link

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