Apple CEO defies order to unlock San Bernardino shooter's phone for FBI: 7 things to know

The FBI has ordered Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the gunmen in the December attack in San Bernardino, Calif., but Apple CEO Tim Cook said he will not comply with the order, citing customer security concerns, reports The New York Times.

Here are seven things to know.

1. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the Federal District Court for the District of Central California demanded Apple assist the FBI by unlocking security functions on the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters who opened fire on his co-workers at a holiday party in December.

2. So far, the FBI has been unable to access data on Mr. Farook's iPhone because of Apple's encryption technology. Given Apple's security features, the phone's data may be permanently erased after 10 failed attempts to enter the phone's password. Enforcement authorities say current encryption technologies on devices prohibit them from preventing and solving crime, according to the report.

3. The judge's order requires Apple to build a master key of sorts that would unlock the phone. According to a statement Apple released to customers Tuesday, "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."

4. In addition to not knowing the password to the phone, the FBI is unable to access data stored on an iCloud backup of Mr. Farook's phone, according to Politico.

4. Apple says the FBI's request has implications extending beyond this particular legal case. In particular, the company said developing the required software — even if indicated for just this use case — threatens customer security on a broader scale. "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," according to the statement.

"The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that's simply not true," the statement reads. "Once created, the technique could be used over and over gain, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes."

5. The government maintains accessing the encrypted data is central to the investigation. Eileen M. Decker, the United States attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement, "We have made a solemn commitment to the victims and their families that we will leave no stone unturned as we gather as much information and evidence as possible. These victims and families deserve nothing less," according to the report.

6. Apple will likely file an appeal, which NYT reports may reach the Supreme Court.

7. According to Mr. Cook's letter to customers, he feels this order is an overreach of the U.S. government, and one that essentially asks the company to hack its own users. "We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create," according to the letter.

More articles on encryption:

Hospital auditing company reports stolen laptop containing 31k patients' data
What keeps IT professionals up at night? 80% fear compromised devices
Dental practice software company settles FTC charges on patient data encryption

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