FBI cracks Apple: Has this given US government more leverage?

Apple would not help the FBI in cracking the San Bernardino iPhone. But the FBI found a way in anyway, ending weeks of back and forth between the two parties. But the end result has not shed either organisation in a particularly good light. If a potential third party can crack the iPhone, what does this say about Apple’s encryption? And has this case set a tone for more government snooping and surveillance?

One blogger says that Apple “shot themselves in the foot” by not complying with the FBI in the first place because now the security of the iPhone has been undermined in front of the whole world. Others say that Apple had no choice but to stand up for itself. Not just for Apple, but for all tech companies in order to not set a dangerous precedent.

Dario Forte, Founder and CEO of cybersecurity provider, DF Labs understands Apple’s need to protect its customers, otherwise assisting the FBI would have “caused a dangerous episode with serious commercial impact”.

Will this impact Apple’s business model in the future?

“I think this is one of the main [reasons] Apple declined to provide the decryption support to the FBI. Apple’s capitalisation value is bigger than some states in the United States. I think we should understand both sides of the issue,” Forte says.

David Marchese, Partner at law firm Gordon Dadds explains how under most legal systems, law enforcement agencies can override “intellectual property and similar rights of corporations” if there is an urgent need for it.

But he wonders if smaller businesses will compare their treatment to larger corporations.

“Many smaller businesses will find it strange that the largest corporations should have some sort of immunity from this general principle, though whether it is right that they should be forced to engage in specific research activities in order to cooperate is a difficult question.”

Have tech companies given the government more leverage?

Adam Meyer, Chief Security Strategist at threat intelligence firm SurfWatch Labs thinks it should not be a shock to anyone that other organisations have stepped in to help the FBI. 

“What this means is that now there is a known vulnerability or process flaw within the Apple ecosystem that Apple is unaware of which is a potential risk to all Apple users in general.”

Meyer warns that this development will now lead to a “significant cascading effect across different government agencies” as it will raise the question of how and when government organisations should disclose vulnerabilities to industry when they are found.

“Apple will surely ask for the technical information on how the FBI unlocked the phone so that Apple can use that information to make their ecosystem more secure for everyone. However, considering how much push back tech companies just applied to this issue I see the government having a bit more leverage then they had before to bring industry back to the table and discuss information sharing with new terms.”

There are no “winners” here

Brian Spector, CEO at cryptography company MIRACL sees “no winners” in this case as six weeks of discussion has only led to a “hacking challenge” which gives further evidence to the amount of resources available to bypass current security protocols, leaving “us all more exposed”.

“The truth is that any technology with a single point of compromise is vulnerable to brute force attacks – Apple is no exception. Going forward, this kind of ‘business vs. Government’ mentality will make us all less safe. Quite apart from damaging the products and technologies in question, it can damage trust in the internet entirely. For trust to be effectively restored, users need to believe that the systems they use online are not part of a government program to spy and snoop on its citizens.”


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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