Why did the FBI direct the San Bernardino Health Department to reset Syed Farook’s Apple ID?

“The FBI screwed this up by directing the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health to reset Farook’s Apple ID password,” John Gruber writes for Daring Fireball. “They did not, and apparently could not, change anything on the phone itself. But once they reset the Apple ID password, the phone could not back up to iCloud, because the phone needed to be updated with the newly-reset Apple ID password — and they could not do that because they can’t unlock the phone.”

“The key point is that you do not have to unlock an iPhone to have it back up to iCloud. But a locked iPhone can’t back up to iCloud if the associated Apple ID password has been changed,” Gruber explains. “The county, at the behest of the FBI, reset the Apple ID password. This did not allow them to unlock the iPhone, and, worse, it prevented the iPhone from initiating a new backup to iCloud.”

“The only possible explanations for this are incompetence or dishonesty on the part of the FBI,” Gruber writes. “Incompetence, if they didn’t realize that resetting the Apple ID password could prevent the iPhone from backing up to iCloud. Dishonesty, if they directed the county to do this knowing the repercussions, with the goal of setting up this fight to force Apple to create a back door for them in iOS.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: So, what you you think, incompetence or dishonesty?

Consider first that the feds did allow Farook and his dog-faced bride back into the country in the first place and local government officials did then hire and place Farook in a position that allowed him to case public schools (photograph, note entrances and exits, etc.) where untold numbers of soft targets in “gun-free zones” (free of every gun but his, of course) would be his for the murdering, so government incompetence has already been well established in multiple instances in this case.

If the feds ever do get into that iPhone, we hope they enjoy nothing but hundreds of photos of high school cafeteria trays.

Apple, we want our iCloud backups encrypted in such a way as to be inaccessible by you via court order post haste.

Apple: Terrorist’s Apple ID password changed in government custody, blocking access – February 19, 2016

Apple posts open letter: ‘Answers to your questions about Apple and security’ – February 22, 2016
Apple could easily lock rights-trampling governments out of future iPhones – February 20, 2016
Apple is still fighting Big Brother – February 19, 2016


  1. DISHONESTY! They knew what they were doing, and they’re playing on the public’s fears to sway public opinion against Apple and get what they ultimately want – a backdoor into everyone’s iPhone written for them by Apple.

      1. Not everyone at FBI is so ignorant.

        FBI condemned Apple for encryption for two years, and now, finally — by “accidentally” resetting iCloud password in this terrorism case — has excuse to demand a backdoor (even though it is practically useless since there are no reasonable chances that any useful information will be acquired after the hack).

        1. Na. You conspiracy theorists go nuts over this stuff, don’t you?

          I think you are wrong and it was Incompetency, seriously how many Windows IT dweebs (majority of government IT) understand Apple kit? (none) But I will give you that once they realized their incompetency, then they became dishonest, but only to cover up their incompetency.

          This theory is much more likely knowing average human behavior than the one that the FBI was being dishonest from the start. Most folks who end up in the FBI are much more honest than the average guy on the street.

    1. The whole thing is dishonesty. The crime is already solved, they know who did it and the guy is dead. Case closed. There is no life or death reason for them to pursue this further.

  2. These are the people who seek to have Apple build them a special magic key to the kingdom.

    The question being asked is whether they were incompetent or dishonest. I would argue that it doesn’t matter which is true because either would make them unfit to possess such a significant power. You couldn’t trust them to do the right thing if they were dishonest and neither could you trust them to do the right thing if they were incompetent.

    1. I agree.

      It does not matter whether they are incompetent or if they are dishonest. Either way it is a disaster for iPhone users.

      If they are incompetent, the specially generated iOS variant will be out in the wild within days (hours? minutes?) of the FBI getting their hands on it.

      If they are dishonest, all the statements that this is a “one-time, only” thing is a lie, and they will petition the courts to get Apple to do the same thing time and time again.

      Either way, it is a disaster for iPhone users.

  3. This is what subpoenas and the FOIA are designed for. If it goes to the bare knocks fistfight it may have to, Apple would have a right to see if their was an ulterior motive. Of course, getting the FBI to cough up all emails, correspondence etc. won’t work here as they will deem it too sensitive to release. Maybe even give the San Bernadino supervisor a National Security Letter which will prevent him from revealing what he said to Apple’s attorneys.


  4. Government agencies, having become so incompetent, must use dishonesty to create a crisis to get others to do the job for them. They don’t even recognize it as incompetence; it is just standard operating procedure at this point.

  5. Dishonesty. Unless you can tell me for what reason someone would direct the county to change the password of an account that you desire soooo much to access. Presumably, only a knowledgeable IT agent would be able to order this.

  6. My vote is for incompetence. And now they are trying to cover up for this by going after Apple. More shall be revealed in the days ahead. Right now I’d say it’s looking bad for Comey and the FBI. For sure, the person who reset the password knows when it was done’. I expect that will come out soon enough… and too soon to suit the FBI.

  7. I’d say both, honesty has left the nation a while ago, along with ethics and morality. Now nature abhors a vacuum, that would explain the level of incompetence that is filling the place.

    Alanaudio, love your reply cause at the end of the day there is no more trust.

  8. How about neither dishonesty nor incompetence, but just an honest miscalculation? Immediately after the attack, the FBI had no way of knowing how many other people might have access to the iCloud account. If those people could access it, they might be able to corrupt the existing backups or at least tangle the chain of custody to make them inadmissible in court. The only way to lock those possible coconspirators out was to change the iCloud password. Doing so preserved everything done with the phone up to October 19.

    It also made it impossible to force an iCloud backup of the data after that date, but the agents who made the decision had no way to know that. They probably felt that the emergency did not afford them the time to wait for advice from the local Genus Bar. Even if they had known about the problem with post-backup data, they might have considered preserving the pre-backup data as worth the risk.

  9. I am confused. If they changes the password on the phone, why couldn’t they open it and see the contents? Also, if someone did reset the password, then that person knows the password and can open the phone. Further, if the county person knew the password, then they also knew the contents on the phone and maybe had backed it up themselves.
    Maybe someone can explain my confusion. Just sounds like a ruse to me.

    1. The passcode on the phone is a 4-digit number unique to that device to allow access to locally stored data. The iCloud password is an alphanumeric that can be used on any device or on the Web to access that account on Apple’s servers. Two different things entirely.

  10. “Consider first that the feds did allow Farook and his dog-faced bride into the country in the first place…”

    First, Farook was an American citizen, born in Chicago. No one “allowed” him to be here. Second, “dog-faced bride”? Seriously? Looks about average to me.

    Look, I hate terrorists and religious extremists as much as the next guy. But MDN’s blatant xenophobia is embarrassing. Time to get those knuckles up off the floor.

      1. Reader: If you immediately go to “libtard” on your first swing at bat, you’ve already struck out.

        Besides, you’re being disingenuous if you think MDN was calling Farook’s wife an America WWII soldier (I know the original meaning of dogface).

    1. If we let the terrorists destroy our commitment to a civil society ruled by a Constitution that mandates equal protection and due process for everyone, the terrorists will have won. We can’t object to the Government cutting corners in the name of national security if we aren’t willing to abide by the 14th Amendment ourselves. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia in the name of security is no virtue.

    1. Yes, really. I say that once you commit murder in the largest U.S. terrorist attack since 9/11, everything is fair game. Only the most PC-steeped ignoramus would be act like they’re “offended” over calling a mass murderer “dog-faced.”

      1. The problem is that there was no need to invoke the unnecessary and puerile term “dog-faced bride”. Absolutely, this particular woman was a reprehensible piece of sh*t. And there’s nobody here or anywhere else outside the realm of crazy that would disagree with that statement. But it has NOTHING to do with looks.

        The insult here is not to the slime bag terrorist, but to women in general, as the use of the term for one example suggests that all women SHOULD be judged based on their looks. Ugly Arab women are terrorists and good looking ones aren’t? Or is it just ugly women in general? That’s not PC, it’s called common courtesy and respect (not to the terrorist, to everyone else).

        Obviously, the author was emotional and grasping for a suitably pejorative term, and given the visceral nature of the heinous act I find its use understandable and forgivable. But it is right to call him out on the implications, yes, certainly. Words are powerful, and one must choose them wisely to avoid sending an unintended subtext or vibe.

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