Using an obscure law, written in 1789 — the All Writs Act — the US government has ordered Apple to place a back door into its iOS software so the FBI can decrypt information on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
It has finally come to this. After years of arguments by virtually every industry specialist that back doors will be a bigger boon to hackers and to our nation’s enemies than publishing our nuclear codes and giving the keys to all of our military weapons to the Russians and the Chinese, our government has chosen, once again, not to listen to the minds that have created the glue that holds this world together.
This is a black day and the beginning of the end of the US as a world power. The government has ordered a disarmament of our already ancient cybersecurity and cyberdefense systems, and it is asking us to take a walk into that near horizon where cyberwar is unquestionably waiting, with nothing more than harsh words as a weapon and the hope that our enemies will take pity at our unarmed condition and treat us fairly.
Any student of world history will tell you that this is a dream. Would Hitler have stopped invading Poland if the Polish people had sweetly asked him not to do so? Those who think yes should stand strongly by Hillary Clinton’s side, whose cybersecurity platform includes negotiating with the Chinese so they will no longer launch cyberattacks against us.
The FBI, in a laughable and bizarre twist of logic, said the back door would be used only once and only in the San Bernardino case.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, replied:
The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. 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. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.
The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.
No matter how you slice this pie, if the government succeeds in getting this back door, it will eventually get a back door into all encryption, and our world, as we know it, is over. In spite of the FBI’s claim that it would protect the back door, we all know that’s impossible. There are bad apples everywhere, and there only needs to be in the US government. Then a few million dollars, some beautiful women (or men), and a yacht trip to the Caribbean might be all it takes for our enemies to have full access to our secrets.
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. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
The fundamental question is this: Why can’t the FBI crack the encryption on its own? It has the full resources of the best the US government can provide.
With all due respect to Tim Cook and Apple, I work with a team of the best hackers on the planet. These hackers attend Defcon in Las Vegas, and they are legends in their local hacking groups, such as HackMiami. They are all prodigies, with talents that defy normal human comprehension. About 75% are social engineers. The remainder are hardcore coders. I would eat my shoe on the Neil Cavuto show if we could not break the encryption on the San Bernardino phone. This is a pure and simple fact.
And why do the best hackers on the planet not work for the FBI? Because the FBI will not hire anyone with a 24-inch purple mohawk, 10-gauge ear piercings, and a tattooed face who demands to smoke weed while working and won’t work for less than a half-million dollars a year. But you bet your ass that the Chinese and Russians are hiring similar people with similar demands and have been for many years. It’s why we are decades behind in the cyber race.
Cyberscience is not just something you can learn. It is an innate talent. The Juilliard school of music cannot create a Mozart. A Mozart or a Bach, much like our modern hacking community, is genetically created. A room full of Stanford computer science graduates cannot compete with a true hacker without even a high-school education.
So here is my offer to the FBI. I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. 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 back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.
If you doubt my credentials, Google “cybersecurity legend” and see whose name is the only name that appears in the first 10 results out of more than a quarter of a million.
John McAfee is currently running for president as a Libertarian.