The U.S. Department of Justice has gotten itself involved in Apple's lawsuit against Corellium, a company that allows its customers to run virtual copies of iOS for security research purposes. Apple is suing the company on the grounds of copyright infringement, arguing that Corellium has no right to sell copies of its operating system. It also says that the product is popular with hackers looking for exploits to sell on the black market.
Interestingly, Forbes reports that Corellium has told the courts that the deposition of its CEO could raise "national security concerns." And guess what, now the government is requesting to see the evidence Apple might present to prove its case against Corellium. Apple says it has obtained "photos" that reveal sensitive information related to its investigation. The government says the pictures could pose a threat to national security.
Per Forbes, here's what the DOJ recently said in an email to Apple:
"The bottom line is that we want to see those exhibits so we can use them to help assess our interests in the litigation,” wrote DOJ attorney Serena Orloff. “And we need them quickly because the court has not stayed its discovery directives. So while we would otherwise be happy to engage in a more extended meet-and-confer process, that seems difficult under the circumstances."
Snowden-scale scandal? — It sounds like Apple might yet again be hitting up against the belly of Homeland Security and its vast intelligence dragnet. The company famously fought the DOJ's requests to unlock the iPhone of a shooter in San Bernardino, California who killed 16 people and attempted to detonate a bomb. But the DOJ dropped its fight against Apple in that case after it said it found a company that was able to bypass the phone's encryption.
Was it Corellium's service that made the assist? It's hard to say. But the DOJ isn't investigating Corellium's apparent theft of a proprietary operating system — it's investigating what evidence Apple might have that proves Corellium's product is used for nefarious purposes. If it's exposed that the DOJ has been breaking into iOS devices at a large scale the public wouldn't be particularly happy, and that wouldn't be great for Trump as the elections near. Perhaps the DOJ wants to intervene and front-run any problems.
The DOJ and President Trump have continued to demand that Apple create a backdoor in iOS that could be used by law enforcement to unlock iPhones.
Corellium says 'we're the good guys' — Corellium for its part argues that it's not selling copies of iOS but rather a toolkit for identifying vulnerabilities within iOS — Apple pays out rewards to researchers who identify and report such vulnerabilities.
The company says that its software is an effective way for researchers to identify vulnerabilities in iOS because it's cheaper than buying Apple's specially-approved research iPhones. Corellium's software displays the operating system chain of execution side-by-side with the UI itself so researchers can identify exactly when errors occur in the OS that could be vectors for exploitation. The company has even pointed to examples where Apple has praised researchers for reporting vulnerabilities they discovered using Corellium.