We said yesterday that the war of words on the Apple/FBI dispute were hotting up, and Edward Snowden has now taken things a step further, suggesting that the FBI’s claims that they need Apple to access the iPhone are … not true. His comments were reported by The Intercept, which posted video of the discussion at a civil liberties conference.

“The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’” to unlock the phone, Snowden said during a discussion at Common Cause’s Blueprint for Democracy conference.

“Respectfully, that’s bullsh*t,” he said, over a video link from Moscow.

Snowden had earlier described how the FBI could physically extract the passcode from the iPhone chip, and has now linked to an explanation of how the agency could bypass the auto-erase feature …

The method, posted on the ACLU website, relies on the fact that the ‘passcode attempt’ counter is store in NAND flash memory, in what is known as Effaceable Storage.

All the FBI needs to do to avoid any irreversible auto erase is simple to copy that flash memory (which includes the Effaceable Storage) before it tries 10 passcode attempts. It can then re-try indefinitely, because it can restore the NAND flash memory from its backup copy […]

The FBI can simply remove this chip from the circuit board (“desolder” it), connect it to a device capable of reading and writing NAND flash, and copy all of its data. It can then replace the chip, and start testing passcodes. If it turns out that the auto-erase feature is on, and the Effaceable Storage gets erased, they can remove the chip, copy the original information back in, and replace it. If they plan to do this many times, they can attach a “test socket” to the circuit board that makes it easy and fast to do this kind of chip swapping.

While a non-trivial solution, it is certainly less risk than chip decapping, and a technique that many commercial data recovery labs are capable of employing.

You can watch the video discussion –with rather poor quality audio – below. The relevant section starts at 30:25.

Via TNW. Photo: REUTERS/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Courtesy of The Guardian/Handout via Reuters.