FBI unlikely to tell Apple how it cracked San Bernardino iPhone


iPhone hack
The government doesn't want to share information with Apple.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The Department of Justice is unlikely to reveal to Apple exactly how it was able to hack the locked iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, according to a federal law enforcement official.

The FBI reportedly paid Israeli tech security firm Cellebrite $15,000 for its assistance in coming up with a way to get around the iPhone’s security without auto-erasing the contents on the device. It announced that it had been able to unlock the iPhone this week — dropping its case against Apple for refusing to help soon after.

One possibility is that the San Bernardino iPhone hackers utilized something called NAND Mirroring (seen in the video below), in which a hacker copies back disk content to allow for unlimited passcode attempts. However, it is also reported that the specific FBI hack only works on the iPhone 5c, which may rule out this approach.

There is no legal reason why the government is compelled to reveal the information to Apple, which would then have the option of exploring ways to plug that particular vulnerability. This is what Apple routinely does when jailbreakers discover vulnerabilities in versions of iOS software — often going as far as to publicly acknowledge groups like Pangu Team who have (inadvertently) helped the company tighten up its security.

In other words, for now FBI director James Comey is no doubt enjoying having a bit of knowledge Apple doesn’t necessarily have access to. Then again, Apple’s been playing this same game of cat-and-mouse with would-be hackers for years.

Source: ArsTechnica

  • digitaldumdum

    “FBI unlikely to tell Apple how it cracked San Bernardino iPhone”

    In which case, Apple is unlikely to work with •them• in the future. If the FBI thinks it now knows enough about iPhone code and security due to help from a small group of hackers, it is mistaken. When Apple decides to make the iPhone impenetrable, FBI demands and efforts to gain access will be moot. In any case, the statement, “There is no legal reason why the government is compelled to reveal the information to Apple” works both ways.

  • tjwolf

    Come on! Why would Apple care whether the FBI tells it how “they” cracked the iPhone? As you said yourself, it was actually an Israeli company that did. Apple could simply ask that company how they did it – or pay them. Duh!

  • WolfB

    Fortunately it was an older phone, so it is possible whatever was used wouldn’t work on newer ones. Apple will also double-down on their security/encryption in the next version of iOS and in future iPhones. Unfortunately- it means for anyone with a 5C or older- the government now knows how to break in to your phone.

    • Greg_the_Rugger

      I think sales of SE will be strong thanks to the FBI.

  • CuJo YYC

    In the absence of evidence, and I suspect we’ll never hear or see any such evidence, you’re presuming the FBI actually cracked the phone. It’s far more likely that the FBI simply said they cracked it to save face rather than losing their much sought after court precedent.

    • GaryK

      I am definitely not conspiracy-minded, but I see a “House of Cards” style deal behind this as well. This was perfectly timed for all parties to save face and perhaps find another venue in the future.