Apple said no way to unlocking terrorist’s phone, now demands to know how FBI did it

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Since the FBI announced that they managed to hack into the San Bernardino terrorists’ iPhone without Apple Inc.’s help, Apple wants to know: How’d you do that?

The FBI filed a lawsuit seeking an order requiring the computer giant to reveal the contents of the iPhone and possibly other conspirators in the San Bernardino Christmas celebration massacre.

The agency has since dropped its suit last week, telling the court that they were able to unlock the phone without Apple’s help.

All of which has Apple more than a little concerned, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“One way or another, Apple needs to figure out the details,” said Justin Olsson, product counsel at security software maker AVG Technologies. “The responsible thing for the government to do is privately disclose the vulnerability to Apple so they can continue hardening security on their devices.”

While governments regularly develop or purchase technology in secret to unlock electronic devices such as phones, tablets and computers in an effort to combat crime, the San Bernardino case was everything but secret from the beginning.

Publicity followed the case from the horrific murder of 14 partygoers by a husband-wife team of Islamic terrorists, to the discovery of the phone and the FBI’s attempt to glean the information it contained, and finally the agency’s lawsuit against Apple.

When the lawsuit against Apple was initiated, FBI Director James Comey said that ethically Apple owed it to the San Bernardino victims to unlock the iPhone’s contents.

Now that the tables have been reversed, industry observers are asking if the agency owes an ethical duty to Apple to disclose how they did it so that the company can close any flaws to its security and encryption software.

It’s unclear at this point whether the method the FBI used to open the iPhone can be used on other models. It’s also unclear whether their own technicians did it or it was hacked by someone from the outside. The Times reported:

Some news outlets citing anonymous sources have identified Israeli police technology maker Cellebrite as the undisclosed third party helping the government, but neither the company nor the FBI has confirmed those reports.

A source who is unauthorized to discuss the case told The Times the FBI was provided with the ability to incorrectly guess more than 10 passwords without permanently rendering the phone’s data inaccessible. That allowed the agency to use software to run through potential pass codes until it landed on the correct one. It is not clear what info, if any, was gleaned from the phone.

 

However they managed to do it, Apple’s attorneys are busily researching case law, statutory law and legal tactics to do that which the FBI wanted the courts to do — compel the agency to give up its secrets — and that may be a tough nut to crack.

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