Apple Inc. has revealed that the FBI alerted it of a flaw in its Mac and iPhone operating system on April 14. This was the first time the security agency informed the company as per the White House procedures for disclosure of such information.
Under the “Vulnerability Equities Process”, U.S. security agencies such as the FBI are required to inform tech companies of vulnerabilities in the products. The companies are then free to do as they wish with the information.
The guideline, which was launched in 2014, aims at balancing the need by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to hack into devices with the desire to warn tech companies to patch such security holes before hackers and other criminals exploit them.
Apple said the FBI disclosed a vulnerability that is found in earlier versions of the Mac and the iPhone.
Generated a Lot of Controversy
The whole issue of how U.S. government agencies and tech companies share information has kicked a huge storm. This followed last month’s disclosure by the FBI that it had managed to hack an iPhone used by a terrorist involved in December mass shootings in San Bernardino, California.
The FBI has since disclosed that it paid about $1m dollars to a company to help it unlock the iPhone after Apple refused to do so. Moreover, since the FBI thinks it doesn’t have legal and other proprietary rights to the method used to unlock the phone, it couldn’t disclose it to the White House as per the equities procedure.
The FBI proceeded to inform Apple about existing vulnerabilities in older devices a day after revealing how it unlocked the iPhone. This seems an half-hearted attempt to comply with the White House equities process and reveal hacking techniques when it is able to.
As a result, Apple executives believe the White House process isn’t as effective as it was touted to be. An Apple executive revealed that the company patched the security flaw disclosed by the FBI nine months ago. This was done through the release of Mac OS C El Capitan and iOS9 for iPhones.
Apple Says 80 Percent of iPhone Run on Latest iOS
Apple says at least 80 percent of iPhones operate using its latest version, and has said it won’t roll out any fixes for older software versions.
In separate news, the FBI is due to write a letter to the White House detailing why it has refused to heed calls to share the iPhone unlocking technique with other U.S. government agencies, Apple and other third parties.
Reuters wrote on the topic, quoting various U.S government sources, who said the company that unlocked the iPhone that belonged to slain mass shooter Syed Farook was foreign. The company didn’t reveal to the FBI finer details about the approach. This means the FBI cannot divulge the mechanism even if it was interested in doing so.
+Earlier yesterday, FBI Director James Comey had hinted that the agency was deliberating whether to submit the unlocking mechanism through an interagency review. The decision not to share the information therefore puts paid any efforts by Apple to find the security exploit.
Nonetheless, Apple has shrugged the issue off, saying it will soon detect the vulnerability. It said the vulnerability had a “short shelf life” and will be useless once it releases software updates to its users.