San Bernardino prosecutor raises concerns about ‘cyber pathogen’ in terrorist's iPhone

Generic snap for court issues
Credit: IDGNS

Experts are questioning whether such a thing as a 'cyber pathogen' at all exists


The district attorney of San Bernardino County, Michael Ramos, has raised concerns about the possibility of a 'dormant cyber pathogen’ in the iPhone 5c used by a terrorist in attacks in the county on Dec. 2.

Security experts are questioning whether such a thing as a cyber pathogen at all exists.

The submission was made in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Eastern Division, which recently ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock by brute force the iPhone used by terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple has refused to help the FBI and raised privacy and security issues.

The iPhone, owned by the San Bernardino county, may have connected to the county computer network, and “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 County’s infrastructure," according to the court filing.

But Jonathan Zdziarski, an expert in iOS related digital forensics and security, said in a blog post that he had found no evidence after a Google search of any such pathogen. “There is absolutely nothing in the universe that knows what a cyber pathogen is,” he wrote.

The statements are not only misleading, but amount to "blatant fear mongering," Zdziarski wrote. He added that they were designed to “manipulate the court into making a ruling for the FBI."

On Thursday, a number of tech companies including Google and Facebook and privacy and civil rights groups filed amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, briefs in Apple’s favor.

The district attorney’s office could not be immediately reached for comment on the pathogen.

Apple has been ordered by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym to offer its technical assistance, including if required provide signed software, to bypass or disable an auto-erase function on the phone. The feature could be activated, if the function has been turned on, after 10 unsuccessful tries at testing passcodes on the device. The auto-erase function would delete the data on the phone that the FBI hopes will give it clues to the terrorist attack that killed 14 people.

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