Apple Versus The FBI Over Security: Is There Another Way?

The case of Apple versus the FBI over security is becoming the Super Bowl of the cyber security industry. Tensions and support continue to increase on both sides of the issue, as Apple continues to stonewall the FBI over iPhone security measures. The government is benefiting from support in the media and from tech industry giant Microsoft, who insist that Apple is overreacting in its refusal to comply with a court order to hack the security on its most popular device. At the same time, Apple is gaining significant support from other Silicon Valley big names, including cyber security legend John McAfee, who may have a cheap solution.

On a recent segment of The O’Reilly Factor, Bill and Charles Krauthammer sided with the FBI. Krauthammer opined that the solution was simple.

“This is completely Slam Dunk. Look, the Feds are not asking Apple to create a back door on every iPhone… Here is how you do this. I mean, it is so damn simple it is annoying.”

Krauthammer then continued to explain that Apple could crack the device in secret, retrieve the information, hand it over to the FBI, then destroy the phone and the exploit they created. O’Reilly concurred and concluded that Apple’s stance was silly and dangerous. It is worth noting that neither Bill O’Reilly nor Charles Krauthammer is an expert in the field of cyber security. While their views on the matter are equivalent to a homeowner’s opinion on where the plumber should lay the pipes, they are both high-profile, respected personalities in the media, so the FBI is certain to enjoy the positive coverage they provide.

Another voice of support the FBI received comes from Microsoft’s Bill Gates. According to an interview with Financial Times, Gates went contrary to other industry leaders in supporting the FBI’s case. Gates feels that the FBI and the court order is justified.

“They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case,” stated Gates.

As Microsoft is a direct competitor to Apple, one cannot say that Gates view on the matter is unbiased. Despite his motives, Gates is making the case that Apple should comply, and that once the FBI has the information, this will all go away for Apple.

However, according to a CNET report, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, does not agree. Cook claims that the FBI is not just asking for the information on the phone, but is asking the company to code in a backdoor to the iOS operating system that bypasses current security features. Circumventing security is not acceptable in the eyes of Apple and others in Silicon Valley, as it poses a grave threat if the code or the altered operating system fell into the wrong hands.

Many big names in Silicon Valley support Apple’s stance, reported the Huffington Post. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Jan Klum of WhatsApp, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have all chimed in support for Apple.

Pichai says that designing ways to hack the consumer’s data “could be a troubling precedent.”

Jan Klum applauded Apple’s decision and open letter to Apple customers, adding, “Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.”

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, showed his support and gratitude as well.

Macworld notes that at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Mark Zuckerberg voiced support for Apple‘s conviction. He also acknowledged its responsibility to take measures to prevent terrorism, seeming sympathetic with the FBI in a subtle manner. However, he concluded by echoing Apple’s sentiment.

“I don’t think requiring backdoors is going to increase security or be the right thing to do,” Zuckerberg stated.

While support from industry peers help Apple’s argument, none are more influential as the opinions expressed by John McAfee. Business Insider posted an op-ed written by McAfee that not only supports Apple’s position with the FBI’s court order, but intelligently explains the implications of the demands.

John McAfee pens op-ed

“It has finally come to this. After years of arguments by virtually every industry specialist that back doors will be a bigger boon to hackers and to our nation’s enemies than publishing our nuclear codes and giving the keys to all of our military weapons to the Russians and the Chinese, our government has chosen, once again, not to listen to the minds that have created the glue that holds this world together.”

McAfee points out the dangers of creating the code that the FBI wants Apple to create, even if it is just for this one particular phone.

“The FBI, in a laughable and bizarre twist of logic, said the back door would be used only once and only in the San Bernardino case,” said the security guru.

He points out in Tim Cook’s words and his own that once created, the code or the techniques used to engineer it could be stolen or replicated. Theft by a disgruntled employee or a corrupt official poses significant threats, not only to Apple’s customers but to national security, as well. Any device or system protected by encryption could be at risk, were this “backdoor” to fall into the wrong hands, and that includes government systems. McAfee views it as a Pandora’s Box that we should not open.

McAfee concluded his article by pointing out that the issue does not have to go through the judicial system. Voiced almost as a challenge, he offered the FBI his services.

“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.”

McAfee’s offer seems sincere, and if it is, the government would be wise to take him up on it. The worst case scenario is that McAfee and his team fail, and all the FBI loses is three weeks time. When contrasted with a long legal process that could take years and millions of taxpayer dollars, the choice seems clear — let McAfee’s team have a shot at the device. If they succeed, everybody wins. The FBI gets the information. Apple does not have to compromise its ethics or its customers’ privacy. The consumer gets the piece of mind that their data remains secure. Apple’s battle with the FBI over the security of its device will be over and the industry can breathe a sigh of relief.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]