Data Sheet—Saturday, March 19, 2016


Nothing quite captures the pangs of anticipation I feel for next week’s Apple event (the one on Tuesday, not Monday) than, perhaps, the subject of the company’s latest video ad. The Cookie Monster, yep.

The cerulean gourmand of Sesame Street bakes a batch of—surprise, surprise—chocolate chip cookies in a newly released commercial. He uses Apple’s virtual assistant Siri to set a cooking timer on an iPhone 6s. The insatiable oddball, waiting for the treats to ready, nearly devours a wooden spoon out of sheer restlessness.

Unlike that furry blue beast, people awaiting the courtroom showdown between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple at least have Time’s exclusive interview with CEO Tim Cook to tide them over. In the cover story, Cook says he feels like the whole debacle over accessing data stored on an iPhone used by a terrorist has been a “bad dream.”

My favorite line from the piece? This: “Encryption is one of those technological realities that are so ubiquitous and powerful that they alter political realities—it has a whiff of revolution about it,” writes Time’s Lev Grossman. “It changes the balance of power between government and governed.” That balance of power is rapidly tilting, anyway, in today’s increasingly expansive age of surveillance.

Anyone who—like our famished friend the Cookie Monster—still has time to burn after that recommended read might also like to try this whimsical interactive my colleagues Analee Kasudia and Stacy Jones designed. With it you can test how long it might take someone on average to hack an iPhone passcode, assuming a weakened version of the company’s software—like the type the FBI demands—had fallen into his or her hands.

Some quick caveats: You should never submit an actual passcode to a site whose traffic is not HTTPS-protected, or one that you do not trust. A clever hacker could manipulate your connection to the site, intercept or steal whatever data you input, and subsequently “pwn” you. If so compelled, use only a passcode “like” the one you normally use; mix and match the letters, numbers, and symbols—and even then be wary.

Also note that this tool employs a “dumb” algorithm. It does not take into account the ease of cracking the most common passcodes—for instance, “1234” would fail almost instantly in the real world. The formula here is simplistic: Number of possibilities multiplied by the amount of time needed to enter each combo, divided in half for the average. Criminals and investigators would no doubt use smarter “brute-force” hacking software to break into iPhones.

Finally, this tool is meant only as a fun diversion. (Foulmouthed participants may find hidden surprises after clicking the Guy Fawkes mask below the entry field…) For a savvier algorithm, check out, a site that is indeed HTTPS-protected. Always remain cautious about where you enter your login details though—even there, as the site itself warns.

Okay, so only a few days to go until both sides of the Apple vs. FBI dispute cross-examine each other in Riverside, Calif. on March 22. The courtroom and overflow rooms have space only for less than 400 onlookers to tune into the proceedings. Hopeful attendees can form a queue outside the venue in an attempt to gain admission—one ticket per person—starting at 7 a.m. that morning.

Until then, we all must wait. And wait. And wait.

Siri, check the timer?

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune‘s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach me via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber, PGP encrypted email, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


Europe's most wanted seized. Belgian authorities apprehended Salah Abdeslam, a suspected orchestrator of the November terrorism attacks in Paris, in a raid in Brussels on Friday. He received a leg wound during the firefight. (Time, BBC News)

Revolt! Apple engineers said they would consider flat out refusing to develop a workaround for the security systems they built into iPhone software—even if courts ultimately side with the FBI amid the pair's legal dispute. Some engineers said they might even consider quitting their jobs. (FortuneNew York Times)

Anonymous vs. Trump. Earlier this week the hacking group declared "total war" on the GOP frontrunner. Members of the activist collective have since posted unconfirmed personal data for the leading Republican presidential candidate online, apparently including his Social Security number and cell phone number. (Fortune, Fortune)

Clinton denied secure phone. The National Security Agency apparently denied Hillary Clinton's request for a secure smartphone back when she served as Secretary of State. The revelation comes from newly released email messages linked to the investigation into the leading Democratic presidential candidate's private email server. (Fortune, Associated Press)

Ransom-where? Four companies investigating ransomware attacks on U.S. networks have said they bear resemblance to Chinese state-sponsored intrusions. A spokesperson from China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on such "rumors and speculation." Meanwhile, Chinese security officials told FBI director James Comey that they want to cooperate more on counter-terrorism efforts. (FortuneReuters)

"Celebgate" hacker pleads guilty. A man from Lancaster, Penn. named Ryan Collins has pled guilty to computer hacking related to the 2014 leak of celebrity nude photos. The recommended prison sentence is 18 months. (Fortune)

Mr. Robot Season 2. The hit television series on the USA Network's second season will involve the encryption debate that has lately pitted tech companies against law enforcement. "I'm on Tim Cook's side," said Sam Esmail, the show's star, at SXSW. (Deadline)

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Alexandra Mondalek at Money, sister publication to Fortune, explains what presidential candidates could do with your personal data.

The money that goes to funding presidential runs is the lifeline that keeps candidates afloat even when grassroots momentum slows. (Jeb Bush, anyone?) But it’s not just the money sent in by donors that’s valuable—the information collected by political campaigns can be worth big bucks as well.

So even when a campaign run ends, as it has for Republican presidential candidates like Bush, Ben Carson, and, most recently, Marco Rubio, a valuable asset remains, in the form of data and personal information collected from supporters. Read the rest on


Former Homeland Security Chief Talks Apple, FBI, and Encryption by Jonathan Vanian

Shhh. Super Secretive ProtonMail Comes Out of the Closet by Barb Darrow

Even Sex Toys Aren't Safe From Hackers, Tech Companies Warn by Reuters

Alphabet's GV and Cisco Fund Ex-HP Security Lead's Startup by Robert Hackett

FTC Warns Apps Over Secret Microphone Tracking by Jeff John Roberts

U.S. to Blame Iran for Cyber Attack on Small NY Dam by Reuters

Big Hurdles Still Stand in Way of Future U.S.-EU Data-Sharing by David Meyer

Will Apple Go the Way of Lavabit? by Philip Elmer-DeWitt

Steve Wozniak Tells FBI Don't 'Snoop' on iPhones by Hilary Brueck


Watch John Oliver deliver his take on Apple vs. FBI. The HBO comedian dug into the encryption debate between Apple and the FBI with characteristic levity. He compared giving someone a digital access point for encrypted information to giving a trusted next door neighbor a key to one's home. "He's only going to try on your underwear if it's absolutely necessary," Oliver said. (Fortune)

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