Tim Cook says Apple will oppose court order rather than hack customers

A court in California ordered Apple to assist the FBI to crack an iPhone

Apple's CEO Tim Cook has reacted sharply to a federal court order in the U.S. that would require the company to help the FBI search the contents of an iPhone 5c seized from Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino, California, attack on Dec. 2.

The U.S. government "has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers," Cook wrote in an open letter to customers posted on Apple's website on Wednesday. He added that the moment called for a public discussion and he wanted customers and people around the country "to understand what is at stake."

The tech industry has been increasingly using encryption in its products and services. The move has been criticized by U.S. government officials, including FBI Director James Comey, who say that it makes it more difficult for them to track terrorists who take cover under the encryption. The industry has taken the stand that encryption protects individual privacy and it opposes any mandatory backdoors.

After the government told the court they were stymied by an auto-erasure feature in the iPhone that could erase data after 10 unsuccessful tries to crack the iPhone passcode, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Tuesday ordered Apple to offer its technical assistance, including if required by providing signed software, to bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been turned on in the device. That would enable FBI investigators to try different combinations to break the passcode and get to the data.

"Apple's reasonable technical assistance may include, but is not limited to: providing the FBI with a signed iPhone Software file, recovery bundle, or other Software Image File ( "SIF") that can be loaded onto the SUBJECT DEVICE. The SIF will load and run from Random Access Memory ( "RAM") and will not modify the iOS on the actual phone, the user data partition or system partition on the device's flash memory," Judge Pym added in her order. "The SIF will be coded by Apple with a unique identifier of the phone so that the SIF would only load and execute on the SUBJECT DEVICE."

The government is asking Apple to build a backdoor to the iPhone, said Cook who added that what the government was asking it to provide was something that the company did not have and also considered too dangerous to create.

"Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation," Cook said. "In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession."

Apple has five business days to appeal against the order on grounds that it would be unreasonably burdensome for it to follow the ruling. The government has argued that the phone used by Farook runs iOS 9 and the company has the ability to assist the government despite its claims that it has written the software differently in the newer versions of the software, it added.

Although it has helped the government in some cases, the company has recently fought against helping the government to unlock phones, when asked to under instructions under the All Writs Act. A similar case is pending in a New York federal court where the government wants to access the passcode-protected phone of a defendant in a criminal suit.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about AppleFBI

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John Ribeiro

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place