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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > San Bernardino DA believes 'cyber pathogen' inside seized iPhone

San Bernardino DA believes 'cyber pathogen' inside seized iPhone
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Mar 4, 2016, 01:45 AM
In addition to a number of amicus curae ("friend of the court") briefs filed both opposing and supporting the FBI's attempt to force Apple to crack the security of its iPhone, the district attorney's office of the county in which a workplace massacre took place that initiated the current dispute has filed a claim with the court that the work-issued iPhone issued to gunman and former employee Syed Farook may "contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino's infrastructure."

The brief, written by Deputy District Attorney Gary Fagan, goes on to say that because the seized iPhone may possibly contain evidence useful to the investigation into the shooting, any attempt to prevent the device from being hacked into would violate the state's promise of "due process rights to the victims, deceased and living, arising from the crimes committed on December 2, 2015 within his jurisdiction, and contained solely on the seized iPhone before the court." The DA offered no evidence to support the brief, nor provides any understanding of where the claim that the iPhone might have been used to launch what he presumably meant was a computer virus or worm came from, or how it could possibly do so.

Electronic device forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski, who has written extensively about the FBI-Apple dispute on his blog, scoffed at the filing, saying the DA's office was suggesting that "a magical unicorn might exist on this phone," and thus the court must kowtow to the FBI's demands. "The world has never seen what he is describing coming from an iPhone," Zdziarski added, noting that he did a search on the term and could only come up with a previous reference to a "cyber pathogen" in some Harry Potter fan fiction. "I would expect, I would demand, in order to make that statement at all, he should make some kind of proof." In fact, the iPhone -- virtually alone among mainstream mobile devices -- is renowned for its resistance to viruses and "worms."

"Fagan's statements are not only misleading to the court, but amount to blatant fear mongering. They are designed to manipulate the court into making a ruling for the FBI, and in my opinion are egregious enough that Fagan should be held in contempt just for filing what amounts to a crazy apocalypse story," Zdziarski said. "It offers no evidence whatsoever that the device has, or even might have, malware on it. It offers no evidence that their network was ever compromised. They are essentially saying that a magical unicorn might exist on this phone." A county spokesman, David Wert, told Ars Technica in an email that "the county didn't have anything to do with this brief; It was filed by the district attorney."

The husband of one of the attack's survivors, who is also -- as Farook was -- an employee of the San Bernardino County health system also filed a brief with the court, taking Apple's side in the dispute. Salihin Kondoker told the court that San Bernardino County "can track the phone on GPS in case they needed to determine where people were. Second, both the iCloud account and carrier account were controlled by the county so they could track any communications. This was common knowledge among my wife and other employees. Why then would someone store vital contacts related to an attack on a phone they knew the county had access to?"

He added that the attackers destroyed their personal smartphones after the attack, suggesting that Farook and his wife, Pashfeen Malik, thought that there might be damaging evidence against them on the devices. They did not, however, destroy the work-issued iPhone 5c at the center of the dispute --"And I believe they did that for a reason," Kondoker said in his filing. The county sheriff has also said it would be "unlikely" that anything of value would be on the iPhone, and numerous critics have pointed out that, even if the iPhone could be easily opened, the FBI has provided no foundation for suspicion that there is anything of value on the device, which under normal circumstances would be dismissed out of hand by most courts as an unconstitutional search.

On Thursday, a large number of name-brand tech companies and websites filed amicus briefs with the court supporting Apple, offering numerous arguments against the magistrate judge's order attempting to compel Apple to compromise the security of the device to help the FBI, ranging from the fact that the All Writs Act has been judged -- on numerous occasions -- to not extend to compelling a third-party company to work against its will, to arguing that Congress, rather than the courts, are the arbiters of where the line is between personal privacy and law enforcement.

Some families of the victims, and several law-enforcement groups, also filed briefs with the court siding with the FBI, saying that the possibility of any further relevant evidence on the smartphone -- regardless of how likely or unlikely -- makes the device a legitimate piece of evidence, and thus should be examined to the greatest extent possible, regardless of the larger questions the case raises about third-party companies' involvement. A hearing to reconsider the judge's original order is set for March 22.

( Last edited by NewsPoster; Mar 7, 2016 at 07:36 PM. )
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Mar 4, 2016, 05:14 AM
Generous typos in the DA's document. It reads rather confusedly, alternating between advice to the court (an amicus curiae brief) and requesting permission to file an amicus brief. If there really is a 2nd brief, the deadline for filing it has passed.

Even the Argument section of his brief doesn't provide his position (that's contained in earlier sections), it discusses in detail why the Court is allowed to accept amicus briefs. I'm pretty sure the Court already knows this, since it invited briefs to be filed.

So the phone may contain a "lying dormant cyber pathogen". Gosh, I hope those aren't contagious. The lying ones are worse than the honest cyber pathogens. We should definitely keep the phone locked to protect everyone.
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Mar 4, 2016, 10:21 AM
If it's a dormant cyber pathogen, then the LAST thing we want to do is awaken it by unlocking the phone, right?
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Mar 4, 2016, 11:09 AM
Look at that picture. Wow , they build 'em fat, and full of shi* at the D.A.'s office. Love the IN GOD WE TRUST behind the desk. I know, it's been our national motto since 1956, we should be SO proud of our piety and morals. I prefer E pluribus unum myself, and am tired of these politically phonies.
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Mar 4, 2016, 01:32 PM
Talk about yer lying liars. :/

They seem to just be throwing made up stuff at the wall now, to see what sticks.
Say,.. While you're there, Schrodinger's cat may, or may not be in there, too.
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Mar 4, 2016, 02:33 PM
Dormant cyber pathogen? Okay, if this iPhone has even a 0.01% chance of containing Skynet or Samaritan then it needs to be loaded onto a rocket that flys directly into the sun yesterday.
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Mar 4, 2016, 02:34 PM
Help this poor man ! Obviously it is a cyber version of the pathogen that Khan introduced into Chekov's ear ! Ignorant attorney should have never placed it near his face. Bones to sickbay !
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Mar 4, 2016, 05:55 PM
For the government to direct the efforts of a private company, the government would need to nationalize the company. Where in the Constitution has any branch of the government been given the power to nationalize any individual or private business?

All powers not given to government are retained by the next higher level. In the case of the federal government that is the states or the people.
Steve Wilkinson
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Mar 5, 2016, 03:10 AM
Originally Posted by jimoase View Post
Where in the Constitution ...
If you've been following SCOTUS decisions in the last few years, the Constitution is of little relevance anymore. And, the last hope of a balanced court that actually takes it seriously recently died.

But, I'm with AureliusVerus... get that thing to Elon stat! and launch it into the sun.
Steve Wilkinson
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Mar 6, 2016, 11:22 PM
Ok, if anyone has ever been in San Bernardino like I have then they know that the people there aren't exactly high caliber individuals. That goes for their education, technical knowledge, lifestyle, etc. This DA proves just that.
{{{ mindwaves }}}
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Mar 7, 2016, 06:28 PM
Typo alert:
"Farook and his wife, Pashfeen Malik, thought their might be damaging evidence against them on the devices."
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