Edward Snowden Claims FBI Can Access San Bernardino iPhone Data Without Apple Backdoor

9 March 2016

Daniel Kahn Gillmor:

So the file system key (which the FBI claims it is scared will be destroyed by the phone’s auto-erase security protection) is stored in the Effaceable Storage on the iPhone in the “NAND” flash memory. All the FBI needs to do to avoid any irreversible auto erase is simple to copy that flash memory (which includes the Effaceable Storage) before it tries 10 passcode attempts. It can then re-try indefinitely, because it can restore the NAND flash memory from its backup copy.

Edward Snowden publicly drew attention to this argument on a conference call yesterday, citing it as ‘one example’ method to hack the iPhone 5c’s data. If this is technically possible, why is Apple not flagging this up for its arguments. Tim Cook and co have repeatedly said they know no other way to get into this phone. It is in their interest to find other ways to end the San Bernardino debacle and they have sworn under oath to tell the truth as well. I find it very hard to believe that Apple is ignorant to fruitful alternative strategies.

By the way, if this is true, then Apple can only see this a security vulnerability. If it works today, it won’t work with future hardware. The underlying argument over encryption and government data access rights is not subsided by this revelation, if validated.