Apple drops intellectual property lawsuit against maker of security tools

Apple settled its federal lawsuit Tuesday against Corellium, the maker of tools that allow security researchers to find software flaws in iPhones, according to court records.

a bird flying in the air: The Apple logo on a store in San Francisco in April 2021.

© Bloomberg/Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomber
The Apple logo on a store in San Francisco in April 2021.

The case, which became a lightning rod in the security industry, had been scheduled to go to trial in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in federal court on August 16. Apple filed suit against the Florida company in 2019 to shut down its “virtualized” iPhone business, which allows researchers to test iPhone software on computers, instead of on actual iPhone devices.


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The terms of the settlement were confidential. An email from the Corellium sales team confirmed the company was still selling its virtual iOS devices.

Corellium co-founder Christopher Wade declined comment for this story. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Corellium was previously facing the prospect of years of expensive and drawn out legal action, and many in the security research community saw the lawsuit as having a chilling effect on independent research.

Apple loses copyright battle against security start-up Corellium

Apple alleged in its lawsuit that Corellium violated its copyrights and that its products were a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is meant to protect entertainment companies from online piracy.

Apple’s lawyers accused the company of selling its products to government agencies that could have used the software to find flaws in Apple software, according to court records.

One of Corellium’s co-founders, David Wang, helped the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to the one of the terrorists responsible for the 2015 San Bernardino attack. Wang did that work when he was employed by an Australian firm called Azimuth security.

Apple also alleged Corellium circumvented Apple’s security measures to create the software, thereby violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Corellium denied that accusation, which would have been a key point of debate at trial.

In December, U.S. District Court Judge Rodney Smith dismissed Apple’s copyright claims, calling some of Apple’s legal arguments “puzzling, if not disingenuous.” But Judge Smith allowed Apple’s Digital Millennium Copyright Claims move forward.

Despite the hype, iPhone security no match for NSO spyware

Corellium was co-founded in 2017 by Wade and his wife Amanda Gorton, among others. It was considered a breakthrough in security research because it makes it unnecessary to use physical iPhones that contain specialized software to poke and prod iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system.

Apple initially attempted to acquire Corellium in 2018, according to court records. Corellium turned Apple down.

Apple has long marketed its phones as secure. But The Pegasus Project, an investigative effort involving The Washington Post and 16 newsrooms around the world, revealed new details about how foreign governments use hacking tools to crack into iPhones to spy on journalists, dissidents and other political enemies.

Apple also restricts the access outside researchers have to iOS, the mobile operating system used by iPhones and iPads, in a way that makes investigation of the code more difficult and limits the ability of consumers to discover when they’ve been hacked, researchers say.

The FBI wanted to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. It turned to a little-known Australian firm.

Corellium also offers its virtual iPhones for free to journalists, who could use the virtual iPhones to avoid surveillance from authoritarian governments.

Apple again found itself at odds with many in the security research industry last week, when it announced it would introduce new software to scan iPhone photo libraries for child pornography. Instead of scanning for the photos on Apple’s own servers, as most other technology companies do, Apple opted for the scanning to occur on Apple devices. The decision was an effort by Apple to protect the privacy of users, but critics accused Apple of overstepping its bounds and creating software that could be abused in the future by authoritarian governments. Apple defended the decision and dismissed the notion that the software could be abused.

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