Feds can’t tell Apple how they cracked San Bernardino iPhone

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iPhone 6s
The FBI may not legally own the process used to crack the iPhone 5c under investigation.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

We’ve heard plenty of bluster about how the FBI won’t tell Apple how it cracked the iPhone 5c at the heart of the San Bernardino shooting case, but there’s another possibility, too: that the Feds can’t tell Apple how it did it.

Why? Because according to a new report, citing Obama administration sources, it may not actually have legal ownership of the method in question.

Cellebrite probably wasn’t the brains behind FBI’s iPhone hack

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iPhone hack
Israeli tech firm may not have been the ones who hacked San Bernardino iPhone.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The FBI signed a $15,000 contract with Israeli-tech firm Cellebrite to crack the iPhone 5c at the heart of the San Bernardino shooting investigation. However, according to a new report, Cellebrite may not have been the ones who successfully hacked the smartphone, after all.

Instead, the Feds reportedly broke into the iPhone 5c with the aid of a group of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau a previously unknown iOS flaw — letting them get around the iPhone’s four-digit pincode feature, without accidentally erasing the iPhone’s data in the process.

iPhone 5c hackers think they’re close to cracking iPhone 6

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iPhone hack
The iPhone 6 is much tougher to hack than the iPhone 5c.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Israeli tech firm Cellebrite, a.k.a. the mobile forensics firm which helped the FBI hack the iPhone 5c at the center of the San Bernardino shooting case, is reportedly “optimistic” about hacking the more secure iPhone 6.

The story in this instance involves an Italian father, Leonardo Fabbretti, wanting to access the iPhone photos, notes and messages belonging to his adopted son Dama, who passed away from bone cancer last September at the age of 13.

FBI: It’s ‘too early’ to tell if gunman’s iPhone contains useful evidence

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iPhone hack
Was hacking the San Bernardino iPhone worth it?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The FBI’s campaign against Apple has been called its biggest PR disaster in history, but were its efforts to hack the San Bernardino iPhone worth it? In the FBI’s own words, it’s still too soon to tell.

According to a senior FBI official, the organization won’t reveal what — if anything — it’s learned until it’s finished examining all the data on the handset.

Justice Department may be forced to disclose iPhone hacking secrets

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iPhone 6 Plus_8
Your move, Justice Department!
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The U.S. Department of Justice briefly gained the upper hand over Apple this week when it made it clear that it was in no rush to reveal how it hacked the iPhone at the center of the San Bernardino shooting case — thereby stopping Apple from plugging that particular vulnerability.

However, it seems that Apple’s back in the driving seat after a new report reveals that the Justice Department may be compelled to reveal its hacking methods if it wants to continue with a case asking a New York court to force Apple to unlock a different iPhone handset.