Ever since the dispute between Apple and the FBI over unlocking the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone burst into the headlines, tech insiders have been speculating about whether Apple had the technical capability to do so (most assumed it did) and just how challenging it would be. Now, in its latest court filing, Apple reveals the answer.
In the motion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, the company said it would take about two to four weeks for a team of engineers to build the software needed to create a so-called "backdoor" to access the locked phone.
"The compromised operating system that the government demands would require significant resources and effort to develop," Apple's lawyers wrote. "Although it is difficult to estimate, because it has never been done before, the design, creation, validation, and deployment of the software likely would necessitate six to ten Apple engineers and employees dedicating a very substantial portion of their time for a minimum of two weeks, and likely as many as four weeks."
Apple says the team would need to write new code to override the iPhone security measure which would erase all the phone's data after 10 failed password attempts.
"No operating system currently exists that can accomplish what the government wants, and any effort to create one will require that Apple write new code, not just disable existing code functionality," Apple stated.
It said the team would likely need to include "engineers from Apple's core operating system group, a quality assurance engineer, a project manager, and either a document writer or a tool writer."
"Apple's software ecosystem is incredibly complicated, and changing one feature of an operating system often has ancillary or unanticipated consequences," the company notes. "Apple would have to undertake additional testing efforts to confirm and validate that running this newly developed operating system to bypass the device's security features will not inadvertently destroy or alter any user data."
Once that software was created, investigators could attempt to crack the password using "brute force" -- digitally entering password after password until it gets the right one. Apple says its technical expertise would be required to do that, too.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly argued that creating a backdoor to the company's phones would establish a precedent that could compromise the security and privacy of millions of iPhone users around the world -- a claim the government disputes.