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►  Apple could bypass iPhone security, experts say – but won’t

NEW YORK — Faced with a federal judge’s order to help investigators break into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters, Apple may well argue that the request places an unreasonable burden on the company.

In fact, experts say that complying with the government’s request wouldn’t be particularly challenging for Apple. But doing so might set a dangerous precedent that could threaten the data security of the millions of iPhone users around the world.

The phone in question was used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in a December attack. Investigators don’t know if the phone contains important evidence about the attack or the couple’s communications — and because its contents are encrypted, they won’t unless they can get the passcode to unlock it. The phone was issued by Farook’s employer, the county of San Bernardino.

Investigators can’t just try random passcodes until they hit on the right one, either. The phone has apparently enabled an Apple security feature — a sort of self-destruct option that would render the phone’s data unreadable after 10 incorrect passcode attempts.

The judge’s order requires Apple to create a unique software package — one Apple CEO Tim Cook described as “a new version of the iPhone operating system” — that would allow investigators to bypass the self-destruct system. The same software would also let the government enter passcodes electronically, eliminating both the tedium of manual entry and the enforced delays the iPhone system imposes after a few wrong guesses.

Apple opposes the order, arguing that such software would amount to a security “backdoor” that would ultimately make iPhone users across the globe more vulnerable to information or identity theft. Both the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have pledged to support Apple, saying that the government’s request endangers security and privacy.

From a technical perspective, making such software shouldn’t be difficult for Apple, experts say. But once created, it would be nearly impossible to contain, says Ajay Arora, CEO and co-founder of Vera, a startup that provides companies with encryption services.

“Imagine if that got into the wrong hands,“ he says. “What they’re asking for is a God key — and once you get that, there’s no going back.“

The demands being made of Apple border on the bizarre, says Lee Tien, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. “Asking a technology company to make its security less secure is a crazy, stupid thing to do,“ he says. “It’s like asking water not to be wet.“

The government’s best bet may be to argue that its request doesn’t actually create a backdoor, even if that’s how Apple characterizes the request, says Robert Cattanach, a former Justice Department attorney. But Apple is probably right to worry that a government win in this case will lead to broader requests down the road.

“If the court rules in favor of the government, then I think the stage has been set for the next step, which is, ‘Thanks for removing the auto-wipe. Now you need to help us defeat the code’,“ Cattanach says. “If you’re the government, you’re going to ask for that.“

►  ‘Space Archaeologist’ Wants Your Help

The winner of this year’s $1 million TED Prize has the unique title of “space archaeologist,“ and she plans to use the money to recruit a network of digital helpers to identify and protect sites around the world, reports the BBC. As National Geographic explains, Dr. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham is a pioneer in the field of using satellite technology to pinpoint previously undiscovered archaeological sites. With the prize money, Parcak plans to develop a website that will use volunteer crowdsourcing to amplify that effort and to spot looting. She says the latter is more vital than ever now that groups such as the Islamic State are bent on destroying antiquities.

“We can’t keep up,“ she says. “We are losing the battle. It is heartbreaking.“ Parcak’s plan is to turn the process into something like a game for users, explains NPR. They’ll get cards with images representing about 50 square meters of land. “As the crowd populates these images with their tags, after 10, 20, or 50 users tell us that something is there, we’ll know to be able to check, to confirm, one way or another,“ she says. On-the-ground archaeologists would then investigate, sharing their progress on social media. “The coolest part—they’ll be taking you with them,“ Parcak tells the New York Times. The program is expected to launch this summer.

A Look at the Apple vs. FBI Court Fight

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A U.S. magistrate judge has ordered Apple to help the FBI break into a work-issued iPhone used by a gunman in the mass shooting in San Bernardino. Apple CEO Tim Cook immediately objected, setting the stage for a high-stakes legal fight between Silicon Valley and the federal government.

Here’s a look at the case so far:


Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, a former federal prosecutor, ordered Apple Inc. to help the FBI hack into an encrypted iPhone used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in December in the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. The phone was provided to him by San Bernardino County, where he worked as a government health inspector. Prosecutors say they don’t know whether anything relevant is on the phone but can’t access the information because they don’t know the password and Apple won’t cooperate.


Federal law enforcement and leading technology companies have long been at an impasse about how to balance digital privacy for consumers against the responsibility of federal agents and police to investigate crimes or terrorism. The Obama administration has acknowledged encryption as valuable for privacy protection but, until now, had struggled to identify a major case that shows how Apple’s encryption can hobble their investigations.


The judge’s order forces Apple to create and supply highly specialized software that the FBI can load onto the iPhone. That software would bypass a self-destruct feature that erases the phone’s data after too many unsuccessful attempts to guess the passcode. The FBI wants to be able to try different combinations in rapid sequence until it finds the right one.


The Justice Department said it’s asking Apple only to help unlock the iPhone used by Farook. The judge said the software should include a “unique identifier” so that it can’t be used to unlock other iPhones. But it’s unclear how readily the software could be adapted to work against other phones. And the FBI would likely share its new tool with U.S. intelligence agencies — and possibly foreign allies — that are investigating global terrorism.

Cook warned, “Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, 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.“


Prosecutors say they think the device could hold clues about who the couple communicated with while planning the shootings and about where they traveled before and after the attack. Investigators are still working to piece together what happened during 18 minutes on Dec. 2, between the time of the attacks and the moment they were killed in a police shootout.


The government asked the judge to rule in its favor in a 40-page court filing submitted without Apple’s participation. After Pym’s order, in a strongly worded message to its customers early Wednesday, Cook warned that the judge’s order would set a “dangerous precedent.“ He said the company was being asked to take an “unprecedented step” that would threaten the security of Apple’s customers. The company defended its use of encryption as the only way to keep its customers’ personal data — their music, private conversations and photos— from being hacked. The statement foreshadows a fierce legal fight.


Pym relied on the 1789 All Writs Act, which has been used many times in the past by the government to require a third party to aid law enforcement in its investigation. Apple’s CEO said the government was trying to dangerously expand what the law requires a third party to do. He said the government could require Apple to build surveillance software or more to help law enforcement. In a months-long federal case in New York, another federal judge has delayed ruling on whether the law can compel Apple to help the government break the security on its devices. That case remains pending.

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►  Charges: Tinder User Scams Thousands From Women

The “classic dating scams of yesteryear” are alive and well online, according to a New York City DA. The New York Times reports a 35-year-old man named Brandon Kiehm was charged Tuesday with using Tinder to defraud two kind-hearted women out of $26,000. Kiehm—using a fake name—met the first alleged victim on the dating app in July and told her he worked for Goldman Sachs, according to the New York Daily News. He allegedly went on to borrow $14,000 from her over the next three months, at one point claiming he lost his wallet and needed money to pay for his sister’s cancer treatment. He eventually gave the woman two checks worth $30,000 to repay her, but authorities say both checks bounced.

Kiehm allegedly pulled a similar trick with a second woman in October, telling her he was robbed and needed cash to pay for his mother’s cancer treatment. She gave him $12,000, and authorities say he attempted to repay her with $10,000 in bad checks. Kiehm’s mother says neither she nor her daughter have ever had cancer. One of Kiehm’s alleged victims, however, is a cancer survivor. In addition to the Tinder scams, Kiehm allegedly stole a debit card from a man who hired him as a dog walker, using it to set up a Venmo digital payment account and pay himself $13,000 over the next two months, PIX 11 reports. He also allegedly used that victim’s last name for his fake Tinder account. Kiehm pleaded not guilty to grand larceny, identity theft, and scheme to defraud on Tuesday and was released without bail.

►  This Is Why You Shouldn’t Sleep With Your Phone

A tip from the NYPD: “Don’t put your cellphone under a pillow when sleeping or when charging your device”—unless you want to set your head on fire. Deputy Inspector Wilson Aramboles of the NYPD’s 33rd Precinct shared that message on Twitter on Monday alongside photos of a charred phone, battery, and pillow. It isn’t clear if the photos are tied to a recent accident or an old one; Gothamist reports they might be from a 2014 incident in which a Texas teen’s Samsung Galaxy S4 started a fire under her pillow. Either way, they “really do drive home the point,“ notes the San Francisco Chronicle.

Cell phones need room to breathe, especially as they heat up while charging. While keeping a hot phone away from flammable materials like a pillow might seem like a no-brainer, some people choose to sleep with their phones nearby and rely on features like vibrating alarms. “It is recommended that you leave these types of devices on a hard surface so the heat can dissipate. The batteries heat up, they could melt—in some cases, explode—and cause a fire,“ a fire chief told NBC Connecticut last May after a teen’s phone set fire to his bed.

►  American Airlines Sues Its WiFi Provider

If you’ve flown American Airlines of late and haven’t been happy with the WiFi service, you’re not alone: The airline itself feels the same way and has gone to court to get out of its contract with provider Gogo, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The airline says the contract allows it to opt out if a better service comes along, and it’s trying to exercise that clause. “Alternative service providers are offering faster, more reliable, and less expensive satellite-based Wi-Fi services to airlines like United, Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America,“ the airline argues in the lawsuit, per Wired.

Specifically, the airline cites ViaSat and says Gogo’s early-generation system is too limited in comparison. For one thing, American passengers can’t use WiFi when planes are below 10,000 feet, notes Wired. “Nearly one in five customers have switched from a preferred airline to another carrier because of better (WiFi) offerings,“ says American. Gogo is contesting the airline’s attempt to dump the contract and will submit a new proposal centering on its satellite technology, called 2Ku.

In Science and Technology….

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►  Driver Fills Gas Tank for Just 26 Cents

A computer glitch led to a brief price war between two gas stations in northwest Ohio, allowing some drivers to fill their tanks for pennies per gallon, the AP reports. According to WTOL-TV, a computer malfunction dropped prices at one north Toledo gas station, and another across the street lowered its prices to stay competitive early Sunday. Customer Taylor Kline told the station he filled his empty tank at an incredible price. “I just filled my gas tank up from dead empty for 26 cents,“ says Kline. “That’s too funny. I already took a video, it’s already on Facebook, so yeah, hopefully we’ll see what happens.“

The extra-low pricing lasted at least three hours before returning to normal. Ohio’s average price for a gallon of regular gas was $1.55 in Monday’s survey from auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and WEX Inc. That’s down from $2.29 a year ago. The national average Monday for regular gas was $1.70.

►  Author Claims Shakespeare Had Secret ‘Bastard’ Son

William Shakespeare wasn’t necessarily a doting husband: In his will, he famously left his wife Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children, his “second best bed.“ Now a new biography of the Bard of Avon suggests the playwright had a son with a married tavern mistress, and that the “bastard” was none other than poet and playwright Sir William Davenant, who would go on to become the poet laureate of England before his death in 1668, reports the Australian. In the new book Shakespeare’s Bastard: The Life of Sir William Davenant, biographer Simon Andrew Stirling links the two through not only their shared propensity for the written word, but certain physical characteristics, most notably a droopy left eyebrow.

It’s not the first time the link has been made, notes the Los Angeles Times. Novelist Samuel Butler apparently once said that Davenant thought he wrote “with the very same spirit that Shakespeare [did],“ and that he “seemed content enough to be called his son.“ Davenant was, in fact, Shakespeare’s godson, though notes that rumors of the day suggested that was just a cover for the biological connection. Stirling argues that Sonnet 126, in which Shakespeare writes of his “lovely boy,“ is actually about Davenant. But not everyone’s buying it. Art History News reports that a droopy brow isn’t exactly proof positive, and it doesn’t quite see the trait anyway in side-by-side portraits here. The site says its “nonsense detector goes off when people start seeing medical ‘symptoms’ in historical portraits.“

►  Defiant Apple Refusing Feds’ Order to Unlock Shooter’s iPhone

It’s what the Wall Street Journal describes as a “watershed moment” in the fight over smartphone encryption: A court has ordered Apple to obey the government’s demand to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, and Tim Cook is refusing to do so. The CEO released a letter Tuesday night explaining that Apple would challenge what it views as a “chilling” demand from the FBI—to create what Cook calls a “backdoor” to iPhone security measures. “The U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create,“ he writes. If the government gets this ability to tap into Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone, it could tap into any iPhone, says Cook.

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor,“ writes Cook. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.“ One specific thing the government wants is for Apple to disable a feature that wipes a phone’s data if an incorrect password is typed 10 times in a row, reports CNET. If that goes away, the FBI could then mount a “brute force” attack on the phone by attempting countless passwords until one strikes gold. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is siding with Apple, saying the government essentially wants an iPhone “master key” that could be used over and over, reports the New York Times.

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