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McAffe enters Apple FBI standoff


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A DRAMATIC showdown between the FBI and Apple chief executive Tim Cook just got a whole lot weirder.

The battle between the world’s most valuable company and the American law enforcement agency is considered to have serious and lasting implications for personal privacy and the future of cyber security.

In the latest development, John McAfee, the eccentric and wealthy computer programmer has entered the fray by making the extraordinary claim that he will crack the iPhone at the centre of the conflict, which belongs to one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The FBI has ordered Apple to place a back door into its iOS software to allow federal agents to decrypt information on the iPhone.

The device belonged to Syed Farook who carried out a shooting spree at a Californian medical facility with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, in December, killing 14 people.

The FBI is invoking an obscure law from 1789 in its attempt to put pressure on Apple but Mr Cook has remained defiant and refused to acquiesce to authorities.

Apple says that if it were to comply with the order it would seriously jeapordise the future security of its operating software.

The FBI says it will use the backdoor just once and only for this particular case. But there is no way to guarantee that kind of control, opening up the possibility that “black hat” hackers could compromise the software — a scenario that would leave all iPhone users vulnerable.

“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,” Mr Cook wrote in a letter posted online this week.

Mr Cook compared it to a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks, and said there was no way to keep the technique secret once it was developed.

Undeterred by those warning of dire consequences, the FBI refuses to back down. So far it’s remained a high stakes Mexican standoff — until now.

In an article penned by the notorious John McAfee, the Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate and developer of the first commercial antivirus program said he would hack the iPhone on behalf of the FBI.

“With all due respect to Tim Cook and Apple, I work with a team of the best hackers on the planet. They are all prodigies, with talents that defy normal human comprehension,” he wrote in the article published by Tech Insider.

“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.”

You’re probably thinking, if the FBI seems unable to do it with the resources of the world’s most powerful government, then what hope does anyone else have?

Well, according to Mr McAfee his confidence comes from the knowledge that he wields the power of a motley crew of gifted hackers who would never choose a job with the government, let alone be offered one.

“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,” he wrote.

The controversy has attracted input from industry insiders and politicians alike. Among them is Australian Attorney General George Brandis and former NSA analyst Edward Snowden who have championed opposing sides of the debate.

Mr Brandis has encouraged Apple to comply with the FBI’s order while the exiled Mr Snowden has called the demand “dangerous” and called on Mr Cook to hold strong, labelling it “the most important tech case in a decade”.

John McAfee is not offering to do the FBI’s bidding out of a sense of civic duty, but rather a belief that if the agency gets its way it will be “the beginning of the end of the US as a world power.”

He claims if Apple acquiesces to authorities, the creation of a backdoor would leave the US vulnerable against rogue actors including the Russian and Chinese governments in the event of a cyber war.

“Our government has chosen, once again, not to listen to the minds that have created the glue that holds this world together,” he wrote.

“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.”

John McAfee is famous for his eccentric behaviour and far out predictions. He previously referred to the dark web as a twisted parallel universe where Homer Simpson predicted 9/11 and claimed he once disguised himself as a Guatemalan street vendor with a limp, in order to evade police in South America.

But if you doubt his credentials, he has one thing to say to you: “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.”

Enough said.



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