Apple says iPhone ID change prevented data access

February 22 06:34 2016

The ID passcode to the iPhone the FBI wants Apple to hack for information about one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists was changed less than a day after the government gained possession of it, Apple executives said in a phone briefing with reporters Friday afternoon. Had the passcode not been changed, Apple said, a backup of the information the government is seeking could have been viewed.  It is unclear who changed the Apple ID passcode while it was in the government’s possession, the executive said. The disclosure was made with a small group of reporters during a 30-minute briefing, inc. Apple asked that its executive not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the legal matter.Employees walk up a flight of stairs pri

The call with the reporters marked the latest twist in a now-public dispute between the U.S. government and the world’s most valuable company over whether Apple should be forced to break into a phone used by one of the killers in the San Bernardino, Calif. shootings that left 14 dead in December. Late Tuesday, the government, via a federal magistrate, ordered Apple to write software that would allow it to disable a security feature on the phone. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a lengthy letter posted to Apple’s website, said it would refuse. On Friday, the Justice Department swung back, filing a motion seeking to force Apple to comply with the court order and saying Apple’s refusal was “based on concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.”

In the government’s Friday filing, the Justice Department acknowledged that the password was re-set in the hours after the attack by authorities with San Bernardino County. The county owned the phone and provided it to Syed Farook, one of the attackers. The county action, the government contends, had the effect of eliminating the possibility of a back-up of the device’s contents. The documents also reflect that the government discussed this dilemma with Apple representatives. Apple had been in regular talks with the government since early January, Apple executives said in an earlier call covered by other news outlets. It proposed four ways to recover the information, including connecting the phone to a known Wi-Fi network.

Apple sent engineers to try that method, but was unsuccessful, Apple said. That was when it was discovered the Apple ID passcode of shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5c had been changed under government custody. If the FBI is successful in its request, it will open a floodgate of requests from prosecutors nationwide, the executive said, and district attorneys have lined up with hundreds of requests to unlock iPhones to solve criminal cases, the executive said. The executive said no such request has been made from China or any other country outside the U.S.

The U.S. government has refuted Apple’s assertion — an argument echoed by other tech companies including Google and Yahoo — that creating software to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone would lead to wave of government requests in other criminal cases and make consumer devices more vulnerable to hackers. In court documents Friday, lawyers for the Department of Justice said the order “does not provide hackers and criminals access to iPhones.” “It does not require Apple to hack its own users or de-crypt its own phones; it does not give the government the power to reach into anyone’s device without a warrant or court authorization,” Justice Department lawyers said.