Edward Snowden joins the iPhone hack party, says FBI can use acids and lasers to hack it
Amidst the ongoing debate whether or not Apple should unlock the iPhone, or provide backdoor access to the iPhone belonging to one of the shooters of the San Bernardino shootings, Edward Snowden said that the government can gain access to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5c by using acid, lasers and other very delicate instruments without the assistance of Apple.
So far, the Apple vs DoJ iPhone hack decision has taken found pro and anti backers. In court filings last week in which the Department of Justice requested a judge compel Apple to assist them in opening the iPhone, the government said, “The phone may contain critical communications and data prior to and around the time of the shooting that, thus far: (1) has not been accessed; (2) may reside solely on the phone; and (3) cannot be accessed by any other means known to either the government or Apple.”
Former NSA contractor and privacy activist Edward Snowden who appeared in a virtual talk at Johns Hopkins University said the third statement is not totally true.
“The problem is, the FBI has other means… They told the courts they didn’t, but they do. The FBI does not want to do this,” Snowden said during his talk.
Called “de-capping,” this extremely risky hacking method involves removing and de-capsulating the phone’s memory chip to expose it to direct, microscopic scrutiny and exploitation.
Snowden’s views were endorsed by other security experts who said that performing the decapping hack on an iPhone should be technically possible. Decapping is a mechanism where the main processor chip of the phone is physically attacked to probe its contents. The process first uses acid to remove the chip’s encapsulation. After that, a laser drills down into the chip in an attempt to expose the portion of the memory that contains the iPhone’s unique ID (UDID) data. From there they would place tiny probes on the spot and read out the UDID bit by bit, as well as the algorithm used to untangle it.
Once the FBI has extracted the targeted data, they could put it on a supercomputer and gear up to recover the missing pass code by simply trying all possible combinations until one unlocks the iPhone data. Since the process is being done outside of iOS architecture, there is no 10-try limit or self-destruct mechanism that can wipe the data.
The only drawback is that if at any point there’s even a slight mistake in the decapping or attack process, the chip could be destroyed and all access to the phone’s memory lost forever. This may be a major reason the FBI may not be willing to take the risk to recover the data through decapping and rather rely on a backdoor entry provided officially by Apple.
On the other hand, Apple doesn’t seem to be willing to break into that iPhone, and Apple CEO Tim Cook says that, even though “we mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected,” the fact that the FBI wants to create a backdoor that can be installed on every phone is still a security threat.
“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control,” Cook pointed out.
By the end of the week, the company is set to file its legal response to the FBI’s court order, though Tim Cook favours the FBI to drop the order and let a federal commission make the final decision.