San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone – “Dormant Cyber Pathogen”?

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In a surprising plot twist in the ongoing legal saga of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone case, the local District Attorney Michael Ramos is promoting a new line of attack. He proposed a novel reason for forcing Apple to crack open the iPhone for the FBI, saying that the smartphone could have been “used as a weapon” to propagate malicious software to government computer systems.

“Ramos acknowledged to The Associated Press that there’s no evidence of malicious software in the county’s computer network,” the San Jose Mercury News reports. But, he added that he “wouldn’t call it a total hypothetical.”

Experts, however, are understandably baffled and irked by Ramos’ claim. Independent cyber security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski wrote in a blog post: “Ramos’s statements are not only misleading to the court, but amount to blatant fear mongering.”

Not everyone was so dismissive, but it appears Ramos hasn’t managed to find many backers for his claim. “It’s definitely possible, technically, but it doesn’t seem to me at first glance to be likely,” mused David Meltzer, chief research officer at Tripwire, an IT security provider. The iPhone’s operating system, he explained, is a closed environment, designed to prevent users from easily inserting their own apps.

Ramos has been widely mocked for his usage of the unorthodox term “lying-dormant cyber pathogen” to describe the potential attack, but Ramos bit back, saying: “When they do that … they’re mocking the victims of this crime, of this horrible terrorist attack.”

Ramos insisted that to truly know that the attack didn’t happen is to look through the phone in question. “In order for me to really put that issue to rest, there is one piece of evidence that would absolutely let us know that, and that would be the iPhone,” Ramos said.