On Thursday, McAfee security firm founder John McAfee wrote an op-ed article (opens in new tab) about the security issues surrounding Apple, the FBI, and the controversial iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters in December. Essentially, he wants to offer his services to the government, free of charge, in exchange for Apple not having to provide a backdoor into its iOS platform.
“I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team,” he writes. “We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a backdoor in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.”
McAfee’s offer arrives just days after Apple CEO Tim Cook presented customers with a public letter (opens in new tab) stating that his company has no plans to make a new version of iOS to install on an iPhone recovered during an investigation. He said that if this modified platform fell into the wrong hands, it would allow anyone to gain access to whatever is stored on an iPhone that’s in his/her physical possession.
Cook said that by building a version of iOS that would bypass security, the company would essentially be creating a backdoor. And even though the government swears that this “tool” would only be used in this specific case, Cook couldn’t guarantee the safety of every iPhone customer. He says that the tool would be similar to a master key that’s capable of opening “hundreds of millions” of locks.
This week, reports surfaced that the FBI is demanding that Apple provide means for the agency to access encrypted data stored on an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI is using the All Writs Act of 1789 to push Apple into providing the government wants, which is for the company to disable the iPhone feature that will wipe the phone if someone enters the incorrect password ten times. There are reports that the government wants to gain access by using “brute force.” (opens in new tab)
As it stands now, not even Apple can break into the terrorist’s iPhone thanks to the way iOS is engineered. As with any iPhone, only the people who know the passcode can gain access to the device—presumably just the phone's owner.
The FBI has been trying to gain access to the iPhone’s contents for months. Apple is unwilling to fork over a tool even though it handed over all the information it could retrieve from the cloud, and other industry giants like Google and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are seemingly backing (opens in new tab) the iPhone maker.
“We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good,” Tim Cook said in his open letter. “Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the US government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create.”
In McAfee’s letter, he said that his team is made up of the best hackers “on the planet,” with talents that “defy normal human comprehension.” Around 75 percent of the group are social engineers while the rest are hardcore coders. He indicated that the FBI’s team isn’t this good because the government won't hire anyone with a 24-inch purple Mohawk.
“I would eat my shoe on the Neil Cavuto show if we could not break the encryption on the San Bernardino phone,” McAfee says.