A local prosecutor has offered an unusual justification for forcing Apple to help hack an iPhone used by a San Bernardino mass killer: The phone might have been "used as a weapon" to introduce malicious software to county computer systems. San Bernardino County DA Michael Ramos tells the AP that there's no evidence of malicious software in the county's computer network. But he adds, "I wouldn't call it a total hypothetical." Computer security experts say the prospect is unlikely. By late Friday, the prosecutor's claim had sparked a wave of social media postings, many of which mocked the DA's use of the non-technical term "cyber pathogen" to describe the supposed malware.
The idea that shooter Syed Farook might have used the phone to transmit a "lying-dormant cyber pathogen" into county data systems is a new one. Ramos' office, however, cited it in a court filing Thursday among several other reasons to support the government's position. One software expert who signed a brief in support of Apple calls Ramos' statements "misleading" and "blatant fear mongering." A computer security expert says that while "it's definitely possible," it doesn't seem likely, as iPhone operating systems are relatively closed environments. Meanwhile, Ramos says anyone who mocks the term "cyber pathogen" is "mocking the victims of this crime, of this horrible terrorist attack."