San Bernardino DA warns that Syed Farouk's iPhone could contain a "dormant cyber pathogen"

By midian182
Mar 4, 2016
Post New Reply
  1. While Apple’s San Bernardino iPhone court case is a deadly serious issue, the outcome of which could have a profound effect on how companies encrypt their products and the government’s ability to spy on its citizens, there have been moments in the ongoing saga that have bordered on farcical. Firstly, John McAfee offered to decrypt the device for free with his team of super hackers, and now, San Bernardino County District Attorney, Michael Ramos, has theorized that the iPhone 5c may house a “dormant cyber pathogen” that threatens the US.

    The statement is the first time that authorities have speculated on what Syed Rizwan Farook’s work-issued device might contain.

    "The iPhone is a county-owned telephone that may have connected to the San Bernardino County computer network. The seized iPhone 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," said Ramos in a court filing, reported by Ars Technica.

    ‘Dormant cyber pathogen’ is, of course, a term that Ramos appears to have made up. Not only does it sound like something from a 90’s techno-thriller novel, but iPhone forensic expert Jonathan Zdziarski said that the DA was suggesting a "magical unicorn might exist on this phone."

    “There is absolutely nothing in the universe that knows what a cyber pathogen is,” Zdziarski said in a blog post. Adding that the comments amounted to “blatant fear mongering” designed to influence the court in the FBI’s favor.

    In all likelihood, Ramos is referring to the possibility that there may be some form of virus on the iPhone that could attack San Bernardino’s IT network if it’s released. But Zdziarski points out that "the world has never seen what he is describing coming from an iPhone,"

    It sounds like he’s making up these terms as he goes. We've never used these terms in computer science. I think what he’s trying to suggest is that Farook was somehow working with someone to install a program on the iPhone that would infect the local network with some kind of virus or worm or something along those lines. Anything is possible, right? Do they have any evidence whatsoever to show there is any kind of cyber pathogen on the network or any logs or network captures to show that Farook's phone tried to introduce some unauthorized code into the system?

    In a separate matter, some 40 companies and organizations are now expected to file briefs supporting Apple in its court case against the federal government. Here is a list of those who have filed so far, as published by Re/Code:

    • A group of 32 law professors.
    • Access Now, a civil society organization dedicated to extending the digital rights of users around the world, and Wickr Foundation, a nonprofit group that champions private communications.
    • ACT/The App Association, a group that represents more than 5,000 app companies. Its sponsors include Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Verizon.
    • Airbnb, Atlassian, Automattic, CloudFlare, eBay, GitHub, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Mapbox, Medium, Meetup, Reddit, Square, Squarespace, Twilio, Twitter and Wickr.
    • American Civil Liberties Union, a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to principles of liberty and equality.
    • David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur, who prepared a report on the use of encryption and anonymity in digital communications.
    • AT&T
    • AVG Technologies, Data Foundry, Golden Frog, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, the Internet Association and the Internet Infrastructure Coalition.
    • BSA/The Software Alliance, the Consumer Technology Association, the Information Technology Council and TechNet.
    • Computer security experts Dino Dai Zovi, Dan Boneh, Charlie Miller, Hovav Shacham, Bruce Schneier, Dan S. Wallach and Jonathan Zdziarski.
    • Electronic Frontier Foundation and 46 technologists, researchers and cryptographers
    • Intel
    • The Media Institute
    • Salihin Kondoker, a San Bernardino resident whose wife was shot three times in the attack

    Image credit: fotogestoeber / Shutterstock

    Permalink to story.

  2. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus TS Evangelist Posts: 1,524   +288

    A genuine 1945 Captain Midnight $ecret $quadron Decoder?

    I think I would be looking forward to the parody if it weren't so serious.
    Arris likes this.
  3. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,936

    There's only one way to find out...
  4. Raoul Duke

    Raoul Duke TS Guru Posts: 860   +307

    Wow, simply wow
    ikesmasher likes this.
  5. Arturo

    Arturo TS Member Posts: 81   +26

    The idea of a dormant cyber pathogen is simply too sophisticated for the simplistic minds to be found in Apple.
    Gopal Bhat likes this.
  6. Zoner1501

    Zoner1501 TS Enthusiast Posts: 48   +11

    5 years later and 100 million tax dollars spent they find only porn on his phone.
  7. umbala

    umbala TS Addict Posts: 160   +132

    I'm surprised to see AT&T on that list. After 9/11 when the government wanted to spy on its citizens and tap their phone conversations, AT&T was all like "Oh sure, come on in!" but now they're against government spying? Feels like a PR stunt to me.
    Arris likes this.
  8. tcgirl

    tcgirl TS Rookie

    So his argument is... I have Pandora's box and I have to open it to see if there really is evil in it.
    wiyosaya likes this.
  9. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Maniac Posts: 932   +238

    Almost certainly.

    My take is that since it is a county-owned phone, there should be some sort of security measures on it or on the systems that connect to it to make sure that it does not get contaminated or contaminate the systems it connects to. So perhaps this *** is saying "we screwed up! There was nothing on phone to ensure that the phone did not contaminate our systems. Therefore, we need to dissect it to see if contains a doomsday virus that infected our systems." That would be typical of a politician. When something is their fault, they blame it on someone else because they have not the courage to admit it was their fault.
  10. BlueDrake

    BlueDrake TS Evangelist Posts: 344   +101

    Pretty much. They know there's no leg to stand on right now, and just pulling any super spooky sounding technobabble. Just so they can get someone to let them do as they wish, because in the end they wanted a blanket coverage over what they do with things. Since they had no defining scope in the first place, the case was basically tossed out on accounts of that alone.

    So what better way than say something was on the phone, and how do we have proof there wasn't unless we look at the phone itself? I wonder how long until this is just thrown out, and laughed out of court because it's easy to state anything in the name of <x> these days. That way you basically twist everyone's arm, and who else controls the general news you watch but basically the government? Through multiple chains of command I'm sure, to keep things at football field distance. I just hope this doesn't go through because, the future of many things often ride on one particular case.
    tcgirl likes this.
  11. Skjorn

    Skjorn TS Rookie Posts: 23   +8

    Hey I found one of those decoder coins in my backyard.
  12. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus TS Evangelist Posts: 1,524   +288

    Better turn it in to the FBI. They have been looking for one.
  13. Nitrotoxin

    Nitrotoxin TS Booster Posts: 102   +56

    Biggest load of BS I have ever heard...
  14. Nitrotoxin

    Nitrotoxin TS Booster Posts: 102   +56

    Someone should fire that DA... he's a fing *****...
  15. tcgirl

    tcgirl TS Rookie

    I have to agree. I believe the use of the word "pathogen" is a scare tactic in the sense that the meaning of the word infers a biological action and brings to mind a threat to our health.

    Most people see this case in the news and the words most used is "user privacy", the words used should be "user privacy & security". That is very misleading. This isn't just a privacy issue in regards to a users communication.

    Already California & New York are proposing legislation that would prevent the sale of phones that are unhackable by design without the need of a backdoor. The law would require phones sold to have an OS with encryption that could be broken with a brute-force attack within a certain time frame. Any type of ruling in favor of making Apple comply could be held up as an example.

    As you said.. "the future of many things often ride on one particular case." Lawyers love precedents and while this case alone may not lead to the so called "ban of unbreakable" encryption, it could be used as a stepping stone to get there.
  16. tcgirl

    tcgirl TS Rookie

    There are two different stories about MDM software in this case.

    One story is that MDM was purchased but has never deployed or activated it since the end user could disable or uninstall it. I'm still scratching my head over that one.. if the end user uninstalls it or deactivates the MDM software it would generate a report and and the county would take what ever action is appropriate when an employee does something they shouldn't.

    The second story is that the MDM software is being tested and that the health department didn't sign up for the test. What is there to test? Contact other government agencies to find out what MDM software they use and make a decision to implement it.

    Both stories sound like individuals covering their butts...
  17. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,455   +1,758

    This DA is just trying to impress people with the fact he knows big words, and words which can be used in conjunction with, "terrorism". And "pathogen" trumps, "privacy", in the hearts and feeble minds of the American public. (I always have to remind myself to put the "L" in public). He couldn't use "threat from a dirty phone", as a talking point,. since according to the nightly news, everyone's phones are crawling with "pathogens", they're just not weaponized.
  18. DwayneAK

    DwayneAK TS Rookie

    We have to steal the Declaration of Independence.
  19. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +113

    If Jonathan Zdziarski knows so darned much why didn't he unlock the phone? Yeah.
  20. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +113

    Almost certainly? Really? You think everyone has pornography on their phone? You'd be disappointed with mine then. lol
  21. whipnet

    whipnet TS Rookie

    Goat porn at that!
  22. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,587   +278

    Yeah, it's all about the streaming nowadays.
  23. NeutronStar

    NeutronStar TS Rookie

    A good plot for a new Sci-Fi Movie :D
  24. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,455   +1,758

    Don't tell me, let me guess. It was right next to OJ's knife....:D

Similar Topics

Add New Comment

You need to be a member to leave a comment. Join thousands of tech enthusiasts and participate.
TechSpot Account You may also...