iPhone that Apple is being forced to unlock could have a ‘lying dormant cyber pathogen’ in it, San Bernardino official claims

The handset could be a trigger for a huge virus, a district attorney has said, in a claim that has been rubbished by cybersecurity experts

One of the officials involved in trying to get into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone has argued that it could contain a “cyber pathogen”.

The San Bernardino District Attorney has argued that the phone might be a trigger for a “lying dormant cyber pathogen”. The phrase has been dismissed as mostly meaningless by cyber security experts.

The claim comes as part of the US government’s argument that Apple should be forced to help unlock a phone used by Syed Farook, one of the two people who killed 14 people in San Bernardino last year. Apple has pledged to fight the order, and the claim was made as part of arguments opposing the company.

“The iPhone is a county owned telephone that may have connected to the San Bernardino County computer network,” writes Michael Ramos, in reference to the fact that the iPhone 5c at the centre of the case was given as part of Farook’s job.

“The seized iPhone may contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino's infrastructure.”

The claim is the first time that officials have actually said what they expect to find in the phone if Apple unlocks it, according to Ars Technica, which first reported the papers.

But cyber security experts have dismissed and mocked the claims about a “lying dormant cyber pathogen”.

“It sounds like he’s making up these terms as he goes,” said Jonathan Zdziarski, an iPhone forensics expert interviews by Ars Technica. “We've never used these terms in computer science.”

Mr Zdziarski alleged that the claim was meant to encourage the court to back the government rather than Apple by creating a fear that a “magic unicorn” might exist in the phone.