I am currently doing some research into the Apple vs FBI controversy.

During my research, I found a Edward Snowden comment that claimed that the government can actually override a phone's data, specifically an iPhone, through physical means, as long as they can take apart the phone and use the data chips inside.

I have tried to find some certifiable website that supports this, but have been fruitless. Now I just want to ask, "Is this plausible?". Can the government really break into an iPhone through physical code overwrite?


In the case above, the government is trying to access data inside the chips, so that they can break into a terrorist's phone. But Apple is refusing to give the government the key to accessing the data. Edward Snowden commented that they can selectively overwrite the code to that the OS will be easier to hack.

Links and Context


Skip to 2:55 for the specific comment and start from the start for greater context.


For the greater context.

  • Of course, replace the chips, or just find the JTAG headers used in the factory to write the data to the EEPROM in the first place. Replacing boot code is easy, the problem they have is the data they want after that is encrypted
    – ewanm89
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 13:28
  • 2
    To rephrase what the other people are saying: before a phone is ever used, it is possible to plant backdoored software/hardware into the phone and data can still be extracted through them even if encryption seems to be applied. However, tempering the phone after proper encryption has already been applied cannot magically decrypt the data without know the user's password.
    – billc.cn
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 14:57
  • all they wanted to do with apple is suppress the bad-pin counter that would reset the data upon incorrect guesses, it had nothing to do with breaching the encryption code or data itself. it's akin to disabling the alarm on a safe so that they have all weekend to crack the combo...
    – dandavis
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 20:08

1 Answer 1


Is this plausible?

Yes, it is. As pointed out in the comments, tampering with an iPhone (or an Android Phone for that matter) isn't that complicated when you have physical access to it. The problem is, you do not have access to the data is stored on the phone itself.
Plus: You can think about him what you want, but pretty much all of Snowden's allegations turned out to be true.

Can the government really break into an iPhone through physical code overwrite?

The government (or whoever has physical access to your phone - and a bit of time) can "break into your" phone. This means components can be altered.
But what it does NOT mean is, that an adversary can then read the files/data that is stored on the phone, because they are still encrypted. They can get encrypted with the user's passcode/PIN, and this is - to my knowledge - not accessible through hardware tampering.

  • 1
    Thank you, I had lots of great comments helping me out but I didn't have an answer to close the question...
    – Mildwood
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 11:32

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