The Apple ID passcode of the iPhone 5c that one of the San Bernardino shooters owned was changed when the government got ahold of it in less than 24 hours, and according to the Cupertino brand, it could've provided a backup of the information that the FBI is seeking if the code had not been altered.

Before this event came to light, a federal judge has ordered Apple to comply with the investigators' demands to create a tool that'll bypass the iPhone's security measures. However, the company refuses to cooperate because it entails a potential backdoor to all other iPhones and a whole new iOS designed solely to break into the handset that was meant to be impossible to unlock.

To keep user information safe, the iPhone automatically erases all its data after 10 incorrect passcode inputs, sets a delay between each entry and only allows manual input so that no computer can crack the code.

Apple reportedly presented four methods to acquire the data without the need for a backdoor, and one of those is to simply connect to a known Wi-Fi network that could prompt the iCloud backup to start, thus providing the requested information between Oct. 19 and the date when the incident took place.

This was certainly a solution that could satisfy every party involved in the matter, but when Apple engineers went to carry it out, they couldn't do so. The reason for that is because the passcode has been changed by then. According to the FBI, a person at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, which is the former employer of the iPhone 5c's owner, modified (PDF) the code.

In other words, had the passcode not been changed, Apple could've given the authorities the information they are demanding without any pressure to build a backdoor or an entirely new iOS just for that purpose.

Apple CEO Tim Cook says in an open letter that such a tool would set a "dangerous precedent." Cook firmly believes that a backdoor would compromise the overall security of every iPhone owner, noting that cybercriminals could soon abuse the software if it was made.

"The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: 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," Cook says.

It's also worth noting that if Apple does develop this tool, investigators will keep coming back to the company to build similar software whenever cases like the San Bernardino shooting happens. Of course, that would soon lead to other countries asking for the same treatment, making the breaching tool likelier to fall into the wrong hands.

To persuade Apple, the FBI is pushing with the All Writs Act, which states that courts "may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law." Cook remarks that the implications are "chilling."

Long story short, iPhone owners will be put at risk if Apple complies with the government's demands.

Photo : Kārlis Dambrāns | Flickr

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