Self-proclaimed cybersecurity legend John McAfee has offered to help the FBI run an end-around on Apple in the case of an iPhone that was used by the San Bernardino shooters last December. Apple is currently under a court order to help the FBI break into the San Bernardino iPhone, but assistance has not yet been forthcoming.
Last December, a mass-shooting in San Bernardino, CA, left 14 people dead and wounded 22 others. The investigation is ongoing, and the FBI is currently attempting to recover data from an iPhone that belonged to one of the shooters.
According to Fortune, the iPhone in question belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwaan Farook, and the FBI has been unable to bypass the PIN code to access any evidence it might contain.
Although the FBI could attempt to brute force the PIN code, sources say that doing so would almost certainly result in built-in iPhone security measures erasing any evidence that may be stored on the phone.
The FBI obtained a court order that instructed Apple to assist in breaking into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, but Apple has yet to comply. In fact, Apple has opposed the order and issued an open letter to its customers regarding cybersecurity.
Although Apple has complied with requests for data that the company has in its possession, the letter penned by CEO Tim Cook states that the FBI has asked them to build an iPhone backdoor that could be abused in the future.
“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. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
This is where self-proclaimed cybersecurity legend John McAfee enters the picture.
In an op-ed published in Business Insider, McAfee agreed with Apple’s assessment of the situation and offered his services, pro bono, in breaking into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.
“No matter how you slice this pie, if the government succeeds in getting this back door, it will eventually get a back door into all encryption, and our world, as we know it, is over,” McAfee wrote in the op-ed.
The assessment that the FBI gaining an iPhone backdoor would end the world of cybersecurity as we know it may be hyperbole, but the potential for abuse is very real.
The backdoor that the FBI wants, and which John McAfee opposes, would come in the form of custom firmware programmed by Apple. With this firmware remotely installed on the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, the FBI would be able to brute force the PIN without fear of the built-in security features kicking in.
According to Fortune, the custom firmware would either disable or bypass the auto-erase function, which is designed to kick in if a PIN is guessed incorrectly too many times, and remove the delay imposed on inputting a new guess each time the PIN is guessed incorrectly.
This firmware could, theoretically, be used by the FBI, or others, to gain access to any iPhone, which is the source of John McAfee’s concern.
In his Business Insider op-ed, cybersecurity expert McAfee suggests that cyberscience is a talent, not a learned skill, and that a “room full of Stanford computer science graduates cannot compete with a true hacker without even a high-school education.”
With the assistance of a team of these “true hackers,” McAfee promises that he will, free of charge, crack the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone in less than a month.
“So here is my offer to the FBI. I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.”
If the FBI should doubt McAfee’s credentials, he goes on to suggest that they Google “cybersecurity legend,” and see whose name turns up.
The suggestion may have turned out to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as searching for “cybersecurity legend” at this time primarily turns up stories about John McAfee proclaiming himself to be a cybersecurity legend.
Cybersecurity legend or not, McAfee does have a history in the field. He founded anti-virus software company McAfee, which was later sold to Intel and folded into their security division.
Do you think that Apple should comply with the court order to provide a backdoor into the San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone, or should the FBI take cybersecurity legend John McAfee up on his offer to break into it using social engineering?
[Photo by AP Photo/Alan Diaz]