A county level IT worker changed the password for the iCloud account associated with the iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters within hours of taking possession of the device.
It is likely that information on the device could have been recovered had this not occurred, according to Apple.
ABC News reported:
The Justice Department acknowledged in its court filing that the password of Syed Farook’s iCloud account had been reset. The filing states, “the owner [San Bernardino County Department of Public Health], in an attempt to gain access to some information in the hours after the attack, was able to reset the password remotely, but that had the effect of eliminating the possibility of an auto-backup…”
The auto reset was executed by a county information technology employee, according to a federal official. Federal investigators only found out about the reset after it had occurred and that the county employee acted on his own, not on the orders of federal authorities, the source said.
Without the password change, the iPhone could have backed up to the cloud on its own had it been taken to a location where it recognized the Wi-Fi network, an Apple rep said.
The missed opportunity was critical, according to ABC:
Missing the opportunity for a backup was crucial because some of the information stored on the phone would have been backed up to the iCloud and could have potentially been retrieved. According to court records, the iPhone had not been backed up since Oct. 19, 2015, one-and-a-half months before the attack and that this “indicates to the FBI that Farook may have disabled the automatic iCloud backup function to hide evidence.”
The development comes as the Justice Department is pushing forward with its legal fight against Apple, urging a federal judge to compel the tech giant to help the FBI crack open an iPhone left behind by Farook.
Apple is now being pressured by the U.S. government to assist in unlocking the device, but CEO Tim Cook has refused to create a “back door” for authorities.
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