San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos has an, um, unusual take on why Apple should assist the FBI by creating software to help unlock a suspect's iPhone: If Apple doesn't, he argues, the county may never know if it is threatened by a "dormant cyber pathogen". "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," Ramos wrote in a court filing today.
You may be wondering what a "dormant cyber pathogen" is. That's understandable, because it's made-up.
Ars Technica interviewed iPhone forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski, who pointed out that "dormant cyber pathogen" isn't a thing:
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 whatseover to show there is any kind of fibre pathogen on the network or any logs or network captures to show that Farook's phone tried to inroduce some unauthorised code into the system?
Reading the DA's court filing immediately after reading the amicus brief filings in support of Apple — briefs filed by technologists, the spouse of one of the San Bernardino victims and many other tech companies — is jarring. While some of the arguments made in support of Apple point to nightmarish worst-case scenarios, they don't invent spectacular threats wholesale.