FBI told San Bernardino County staff to tamper with gunman’s Apple account


Source: The Guardian

The San Bernardino County government on Friday night said the FBI told its staffto tamper with the Apple account of Syed Farook, who with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, carried out the December shooting in which 14 people were killed.

The development matters because the change made to the account – a reset of Farook’s iCloud password – made it impossible to see if there was another way to get access to data on the shooter’s iPhone without taking Apple to court.

“The county was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI’s request,” read a post on San Bernardino County’s official Twitter account.

Late on 20 February the FBI said that it “worked with” county officials to reset the iCloud password, as discovery of the locked phone was “a logical next step was to obtain access to iCloud backups for the phone in order to obtain evidence related to the investigation in the days following the attack,” according to the statement from an FBI spokesman.

On 16 February, a federal judge ordered Apple to write and digitally sign software that would make it easier for the US government to guess the 4-digit passcode on Farook’s device – not to be confused with the iCloud password.

Apple contends such a move would violate user trust, the security of its products and a core tenet of its business. The FBI counters that Apple has placed marketing over national security.

But Apple executives say there is a way this legal battle, which will shape digital privacy for years to come, could have been avoided – at least for now.

The FBI seeks data on Farook’s iPhone, which was owned by the San Bernardino County government – his employer. But such data can be backed up into Apple’s cloud service automatically if the phone connects to one of its default Wi-Fi networks. People often pick places such as their homes or offices.

Apple, which has the technical ability to get inside an iCloud account but not always an individual phone, has already provided the FBI with any iCloud data it has for Farook. Those backups only go back to 19 October, six weeks before the shooting.

That feature is disabled as a security precaution if someone changes the iCloud password for an account.

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