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Intel CEO Backs Apple, But Believes There Is Way For Engineers To Get Data From Terrorist iPhone To Protect Citizens

Steven Burke

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich Monday told CNBC that no company should be forced to build a backdoor into its products, but at the same time urged engineers to come up with a work-around to the conflict between the FBI and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Krzanich said it would be better for all parties if "engineers" got together to "solve the problem" rather than the "escalation" of the conflict between the FBI and Apple.


[Related: Partners Stand Behind Tim Cook Letter Saying Apple Won’t Allow FBI Backdoors Into Encrypted iPhones]

"I am absolutely not in favor and don't believe that we should do backdoors or be forced to do backdoors," Krzanich told CNBC in an interview from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. "But there probably is a way working together with agencies we can find a way to get them data and to really protect the the citizens from the terrorists."

Krzanich said there needs to be a "balance" between the needs of technology vendors and the security of the country. "I don't think any company should be forced to build a backdoor into its products," he said. "But on the other hand, we do need to work with the federal government and the government agencies to protect people and when we are properly subpoenaed to provide the data. I think there is a balance here between those two."

Krzanich's comments come after FBI Director James Comey issued a public letter Sunday claiming the FBI is not looking to "break anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the land" as it seeks to get Apple to provide access to the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

"The particular legal issue is actually quite narrow," said Comey in the letter, which openly addressed Apple''s refusal to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook, who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, on Dec. 2 before they were killed by police. "The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that."

Apple's Cook, meanwhile, Sunday claimed in a letter to Apple employees that the case is about "much more than a single phone or single investigation, so when we received the government's order we knew we had to speak out. At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone's civil liberties."

In a poll on CRN.com, 76 percent of the respondents said they are siding with Cook on the iPhone battle between the FBI and Apple.

Keith Nelson, vice president of technology for Vistem Solutions, a highly regarded managed services provider based in Irvine, Calif., and chair of the Board of Trustees at the Inland Regional Center where the 14 people were killed and 21 were wounded in the mass shooting, criticized Cook for playing "politics" and "semantics" in the midst of the request from the FBI.


"I think it is a cheap PR stunt that Cook and Apple are playing here," said Nelson. "Cook is mischaracterizing this. We are not talking about a backdoor here. All Apple needs to do is remove the counter that would lock the phone if the passcode is tried more than X number of times so the FBI can unlock the phone by brute force."

Nelson said if he were able to speak with Cook directly he would tell him: "I am on the chair of the Inland Regional Center and know people that were killed, injured and others that were gravely affected with post-traumatic stress syndrome by the shooting. I would tell him that this is not an individual's phone -- it belongs to the county of San Bernardino. It is not a personal cellphone. It is the San Bernardino government's data."

Nelson also maintained that Apple has in the past unlocked passcode-protected iPhones running iOS7 and admitted so in an Eastern District of New York October 2015 court filing. "Apple needs to do the socially responsible thing here," said Nelson. "There is a likelihood here that there is data on that iPhone that could lead to other people who were complicit in the San Bernardino attack and even possibly prevent another attack."

The irony of Apple's refusal to unlock the phone with just several employees working on the project, said Nelson, is that Cook is essentially admitting that he does not trust his own employees not to release the secret of how to unlock the phone to the general public or hackers.

Mont Phelps, CEO of NWN, No. 70 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500 and who also attended the U.S. Naval Academy, said Apple should help the government get the data off the iPhone. "Fundamentally, the U.S. government should have a priority over a public company with regard to national defense and national security," he said. "At the same time, the government shouldn't be able to tell companies what they must or must not do with regard to engineering products when faced with an issue like this. In this case, the government should be able to look to a U.S. company to help protect national security."

Phelps said it is unfortunate that the Apple-FBI drama has become a media frenzy. "We need to bring it back to what really matters, which is protecting our national security and doing it in a way that doesn't compromise Apple or any other technology company's commitment to their customers," he said. "There are a lot of ways to get this done. We have become as a country so dogmatic that it is my way or the highway. Whatever happened to a little finesse? Apple believes this is a holy war and that their position shouldn't be forced by the government. The government isn't always right, but in this case national security needs to take precedence."

Sam Haffar, CEO of Houston-based Computex Technology Solutions, No. 130 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500, praised Intel's Krzanich for striking the right balance between the security of the country and the concerns of technology vendors like Apple.

"I wholeheartedly agree with Tim Cook that there should not be a backdoor created to the iPhone, but there is a one-off exception to every rule," said Haffar. "I think the engineers should be able to get together and figure out how to get the information the FBI is looking for without compromising the security of the iPhone or the integrity of Apple. The message to the engineers should be: 'Come on, guys, let's sit down together and figure out how to get the information the FBI needs without compromising the iPhone or Apple."

Haffar said there always needs to be exceptions that would allow engineers to get to the information that could possibly prevent another terrorist attack. "There needs to be a middle ground so when there is information that could lead to protecting citizens from another attack, we can get at it without setting a precedent that could be abused down the road," he said. "The problem is there are always abuses with regard to the government getting information and then it could find its way into the hands of hackers."

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