Before all of the recent security and privacy hullabaloo between the FBI and Apple, Apple tried to help the FBI. Apple could have recovered the data from the San Bernardino shooter’s phone if it was connected to a known wifi network and allowed to back up to iCloud.
The problem is that the FBI told the San Bernardino police to reset the password on the user account. This prevents access to the backups.
What the FBI asked Apple to do at that point was write a custom firmware update for that phone. It had to be made by Apple and digitally signed by them, otherwise the phone wouldn’t accept it. The firmware would remove the limitation of 10 incorrect password attempts before the phone would wipe itself. They also wanted Apple to remove a limitation to how fast they could enter passwords.
Here are the problems with that request:
1) No matter how careful the FBI or Apple are, there’s no guarantee that firmware won’t get hacked and reverse engineered. Imagine every iOS device made vulnerable because somebody lost their thumb drive.
2) How much time, money, and effort would Apple have needed to develop the firmware hack? That’s not Apple’s job. They’re not a forensics company.
3) One of Apple’s major selling points is their security. By hacking their own security, they severely damage their own reputation and their sales.
4) There are other iPhones in the hands of state and federal authorities. The FBI picked this particular phone because they knew the emotional impact it would have. They wanted to set legal precedent. They failed.
I’m glad they did.