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In Apple vs. FBI, Remember the Memory Chip

Opening Day Of The Mobile World CongressOpening Day Of The Mobile World Congress
Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel, holds a microchip during a keynote session at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 22, 2016.Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg via Getty Images

A version of this post titled “In memoriam” originally appeared in the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter.

Who’d have guessed it?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday—a day prior to a scheduled courtroom hearing with Apple (AAPL)—that it had learned of a possible alternate means of breaking into the iPhone once used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters. Talk about being down to the last minute.

The best rundown I’ve seen of how the method might work was written by Jonathan Zdziarski, a computer forensics expert who specializes in Apple products, on his personal blog. He proposes a number of possibilities and reaches a conclusion. The likeliest method involves removing one of the handset’s memory chips, making a copy of it, and then testing out possible passcodes on it. Should the chip wipe itself after 10 failed unlock attempts—an optional feature in Apple’s system—then the Feds can simply rewrite the chip, restoring it to its previous state, and start over. (Sorry—no lasers, no acid in this approach.)

Zdziarski has a beautiful analogy to describe the process that the gamers among us will appreciate. “This technique is kind of like cheating at Super Mario Bros. with a save-game, allowing you to play the same level over and over after you keep dying,” he writes. “Only instead of playing a game, they’re trying different pin combinations.” Consider it an inexhaustible 1-Up.

The same day that news broke of the surprise hacking technique, the world learned that Andy Grove, former CEO and effective cofounder of Intel (INTC), the Silicon Valley veteran that built its business on memory chips, had passed away. You can read my colleagues’ tender remembrances here, here, here, here, and here. I would also urge you to read this piece, drummed up from Fortune’s annals, that describes Grove’s distinctive management style. As he put it, pithily: “Only the paranoid survive.”

Nothing could be truer in the world of cybersecurity.