FBI cracks San Bernardino iPhone without Apple’s help

By

That iPhone in your pocket is much more well-traveled than you are.
The FBI didn't need Apple's help after all.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The Department of Justice has removed all legal action against Apple after the FBI successfully hacked the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone without assistance from Cupertino.

Apple and the FBI have been fighting a very public legal battle over whether the government can force the iPhone-maker to create a backdoor into iOS. Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly defied a federal court order to deliberately weaken iOS security for millions of users, but it appears that the feds are backing down — at least for now.

A federal law enforcement official confirmed to USA Today that the third-party method discovered last Monday by the FBI has proven successful. The DOJ is expected to withdraw its case against Apple as soon as today.

Apple has argued that the government’s efforts to force it to break iOS goes against the company’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell appeared before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year in a hearing that also included FBI Director James Comey. Although the FBI has insisted the federal order was only about one particular iPhone, Apple has warned against the precedent it would set.

The FBI enlisted the help of Israeli tech security firm Cellebrite to get into San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone. The bureau signed a $15,000 contract with the company for assistance in unlocking the iPhone. The company’s method allowed investigators to crack the iPhone’s security without auto-erasing the contents on the device.

While having the case cancelled is a small victory for the smartphone maker, Apple will likely face more requests to unlock iPhones in criminal cases. The FBI’s ability to unlock the device also proves Apple’s encryption and security isn’t as completely locked down as it would hope.

Apple hosted a keynote for the iPhone SE and iPad Pro last week, but the event focused just as much on the company’s stances on privacy, security and the environment as it did on new products. In a recent interview, the Cook insisted Apple will keep fighting the good fight against the government to protect citizens.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to fight the good fight not only for our customers but for the country,” said Cook. “We’re in this bizarre position where we’re defending the civil liberties of the country against the government.”

Update: The Department of Justice has officially filed (.pdf) to have the case withdrawn:

“The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc. mandated by Court’s Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016.

Accordingly, the government hereby requests that the Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016 be vacated.”