Could a glitch solve the FBI-Apple iPhone dispute? An iPhone 6 used by the San Bernardino terrorists remains locked, and Apple itself doesn’t know the passcode due to recent encryption upgrades. The FBI is demanding Apple build an alternative operating system that can break into the phone, but Donald Gambino at Startup Panel thinks he has figured out a way that the FBI can access the iPhone 6 without the new software.
The revelation may come just in time to help settle a dispute that has boiled over into a very public feud between tech and law enforcement. Despite a court order mandating the hack that even the Department of Justice has backed up, Apple CEO’s Tim Cook has stood fast, arguing that the program Apple would need to build to hack the phone would constitute a “backdoor” into their technology more broadly. The phone may not contain information of any particular value, but the FBI argues that any possibility of uncovering links to terrorists overseas should override Apple’s privacy concerns. Luckily, Gambino may have found a middle ground.
Gambino claims to have discovered a glitch in the phone’s connection to Siri that allows a user to break into the iPhone 6 without knowing the passcode. His instructions are below:
Lock your iPhone
Hold down the power button, then ask Siri for the weather.
Siri will bring up the weather for today and the next 10 days.
Tap and hold until it asks if you want to “add” or “view”
Tap on “view”.
It’ll bring you to the Safari web browser.
Press the home button
Gambino has tested the method on a few different iPhones 6 and said his method has worked every time. He added that it may take a few tries to get it to work, but eventually the phone will open up. The one major caveat is that the phone must have Siri enabled to be susceptible to the glitch, and it’s unknown at this time whether the San Bernardino terrorists took the time to activate the voice-activated personal assistant.
If the phone does have Siri enabled, the Gambino glitch may allow the FBI to break in without opening its own “backdoor” into the phone. Apple may have carelessly provided a backdoor of its own that is likely still functional on many iPhones 6 around the world.
Of course, the flaw also underscores arguments both sides are making about the difficult balance of privacy and security. While the glitch may help in this one case, it’s unlikely that law enforcement will be content to sit back and wait for random hackers to find holes into technology in the future. And Apple clearly sees building a “backdoor” into their phones like a glitch that they can never correct and that governments and hackers will be able to exploit for all time.
The Gambino glitch may serve as a balm for the two sides in this dispute, but the bigger issues of the role of encryption in security remain and may only become more pressing as technology improves.