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San Bernardino shooter's iPhone may hold evidence of 'dormant cyber pathogen,' DA says

In an application to file an amicus brief with a California court on Thursday, San Bernardino District Attorney Michael A. Ramos intimates an iPhone used by terror suspect Syed Rizwan Farook, and later seized by law enforcement officials, might contain evidence of a "dormant cyber pathogen" threatening the county's data infrastructure.

The curious statement was made in reference to an unspecified threat in violation of California Penal Code Section §502 covering protections against tampering, interference, damage and unauthorized access to computer systems. Specifically, Ramos says the iPhone in question could contain evidence "that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino County's infrastructure." Beyond that, no other details are offered.

There is no mention of "cyber pathogens" in Cal. Penal Code §502, but the provision does reference a "computer contaminant," described as a "set of computer instructions that are designed to modify, damage, destroy, record, or transmit information within a computer, computer system, or computer network without the intent or permission of the owner of the information." Ramos appears to be indicating that Farook potentially released a virus or worm onto the county's internal network using his work-issued iPhone 5c.

As noted by ArsTechnica, which reported on the matter earlier today, Ramos' claims of a digital "pathogen" appear to be incongruent with evidence made available in a federal court order compelling Apple's assistance in unlocking the device.

Until now, law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have carefully steered clear of speculating what information, if any, is stored on the subject iPhone. Further, existing court filings do not allude to an imminent cyber threat, whether targeted or undefined. Indeed, the main impetus for conscripting Apple's assistance is ostensibly to make such discoveries.

Ramos' amicus brief application also argues that Farook's phone might contain information implicating a third co-conspirator in last year's terror attack that left 16 people dead, including Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik.