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John McAfee explained on TV how to hack an iPhone (and annoyed the tech world)

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The FBI and Apple are having something of a stand-off at the moment - the Californian tech company refusing to 'hack' an iPhone for the FBI that belonged to a terrorist suspect. 

All manner of tech experts have come out in favour of the arguments of both parties, with American anti-virus computer programmer and grade-10 loon John McAfee making some vocal claims that he could unlock any iPhone for the FBI if they would just give him a call.

They haven't. So he went on American television to tell the world how to do it.

In short, it involves:

  • A hardware engineer taking the phone apart physically, copying "the instruction set, which is the iOS and applications and your memory"
  • A software engineer then runs a program called a disassembler, gathering all the ones and zeroes of inputs "and gives you readable instructions"
  • A coder then reads these inputs and looks for the elements relating to the users PIN
  • This PIN is then used to enter the reassembled iPhone

Brilliant! Why haven't the FBI thought of this sooner?!

Because it's a load of crap, according to tech experts.

As Peter Bright of Ars Technica points out, among others, McAfee's key point that an iPhone holds a readable copy of the device's PIN which it then compares to what you type in, is totally wrong. Apple has public documents explaining how its security system works. iPhones use an encryption system that is designed to stop what McAfee proposes on TV. 

His notion that this would also take "half an hour" is totally wrong. If a software engineer were to find the "readable instructions" in an iPhone's instruction set, it would be compiled of several million lines of ones and zeroes. Finding anything relating to PIN input would take a very, very long time - and it still wouldn't be a massive help.

Since his TV appearance the hacking world appears to have united in joint mocking of McAfee and his apparent lack of understanding of how an iPhone actually works. Still, it's nice to see that McAfee is still getting out and about. 

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