In an unusual sign of solidarity within the tech community, Apple Inc. received additional support from two of its largest competitors on Thursday. Both Facebook and Twitter issued statements defending Apple’s decision to oppose a court order that demanded the company to assist federal investigators in bypassing the security of an iPhone linked to an ongoing terrorist investigation.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey used his very own platform to commend Apple’s firm stance on the issues at hand, tweeting his support of both the company and its CEO, Tim Cook. Facebook released an official statement echoing the same sentiments, while also promising to fight alongside Apple in protecting the security and privacy of users from overreaching governmental policies. Infamous whistle-blower Edward Snowden also chimed in his support for the company, while simultaneously taking Google to task for not offering their support for Apple as well. Google did eventually respond when CEO Sundar Pichai also expressed his support for Apple’s stance, representing a striking moment of accord between two extremely fierce competitors.
The phone at the center of this debate belonged to a man named Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California on Dec. 2, 2015. Federal agents recovered the shooter’s iPhone 5C, on which Farook implemented password protection. They plan to unlock the device using a brute-force hacking technique, but cannot do so without first bypassing an additional security wall that Apple has implemented within their iOS 9 software, the current firmware version of Farook’s phone.
Brute-force techniques involve entering an unlimited number of pass code combinations until the correct code is found, but Apple includes an option to completely wipe the device and all its contents after ten unsuccessful attempts. According to Apple, bypassing this security wall would require a specially-written build of the iOS 9 firmware exclusively for the phone in question. It’s important to note that the company doesn’t deny the possibility of writing such software, only that doing so poses a larger threat to the security of all of its users.
The company fears that providing the government with specialized software, even for a single device, essentially creates a backdoor into an operating system which they go through great pains to secure. If Apple’s means of defeating their own software were to somehow get into the wrong hands, it could potentially threaten the security of hundreds of millions of users. Additionally, compliance in this case could set a precedent for the government to pursue similar paths in future cases, thus raising even greater concerns about the government’s reach in matters of privacy. Regardless of the final outcome, Apple has gained several influential allies throughout the tech industry as the debate surrounding this matter continues.