Tug-of-war between Apple and FBI ends with hacking of iPhone

The long-drawn affair between Apple and FBI ended yesterday with the latter finally managing to hack into an iPhone owned by the San Bernardino shooter.

The entire episode does define Apple's integrity and it's belief in protecting user privacy and encryption, but also proves that hacking into an iPhone will no longer be impossible for government agencies.

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Let's spare a thought for the sorry iPhone which went through a prolonged tug-of-war between the world's largest tech company and the most powerful investigative agency. In a different scenario, or in the near future, that iPhone may belong to any of us and our phones would walk a tight rope between our privacy and government's will to see what we store in them.

"If you halt or weaken encryption, the people that you hurt are not the folks that want to do bad things. It’s the good people. The other people know where to go," said Apple's CEO Tim Cook in an interview to The Telegraph when the draft Investigatory Powers Bill was taking shape in the UK.

"We believe very strongly in end to end encryption and no back doors. We don’t think people want us to read their messages. We don’t feel we have the right to read their emails,” Cook added.

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While contending that it won't create a new version of iOS to enable FBI to jump the passcode and access the contents of the iPhone in question, Apple maintained its stance over the belief that an iPhone cannot otherwise be hacked. However, the way it all ended does prove that such an unofficial backdoor to an iPhone exist and Apple doesn't know about it.

Back in September, a start-up firm named Zerodium announced a $1 million award to anyone who could jailbreak an iPhone powered by highly secure iOS 9.1 and iOS 9.2b OS versions. The terms of the contest involved jail-breaking an iPhone remotely through Safari, Chrome, text or a multimedia message. The winning hacker should thus be able to successfully install any app in the target device with full privileges. A team of hackers accomplished the goal and bagged the $1 million on offer.

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We wonder if these hackers were the same people who advised FBI on how to break into the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone. FBI has so far refused to divulge identities of those who helped them accomplish this feat, despite Apple requesting for the information to make its iOS platforms more secure.

FBI's refusal to share these details with Apple suggests that it may want to keep and use the technology to crack more iPhones in future whenever the need arises. This will also ensure that the existing vulnerability in iOS which was exploited will continue to be exploited in future.

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"Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control," said Tim Cook.

Cook's fears were based on the fact that if Government agencies can find a way to hack into encrypted data, so can hackers whose motives won't be as honest. It's quite possible that technologies currently in the domain of governments can fall into the hands of hackers at any moment.

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