LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The FBI successfully hacked into the iPhone of one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino terror attack without Apple’s help, the agency announced Monday.
The announcement ended a legal battle between the federal government and Apple over forcing the tech company to help federal agents unlock the mobile device.
The FBI will not say how it unlocked the phone or with whose help. Multiple reports indicate an Israeli tech firm was hired to do it.
Blogger Jonathan Zdziarski said the FBI may have used NAND mirroring method to hack into the phone. That is where the phone’s memory chip is copied thousands of times, allowing experts to continuously pick away at the password until it is unlocked.
With the case dropped, many questions remain unanswered including – what happens if and when the FBI needs help again?
CBS2 legal analyst Steve Meister said “I think the FBI has egg on its face and is licking self-inflicted wounds.”
He added the FBI may have what it wants, but it came at a cost. “The loss is that this whole spat was publicly aired when it shouldn’t have been. It would have been better for our national security for this not to have been a public airing of the FBI’s limitations and errors. And it was revealed the FBI made significant errors in its original work with the phone,” Meister said.
The iPhone was found in a vehicle the day after the massacre on Dec. 2, 2015 when Syed Farook and his wife killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center. The couple died later that day in a gun battle with police.
The surprise development also shattered the perception that Apple’s security might have been good enough to keep consumers’ personal information safe, even from the U.S. government.
U.S. magistrate Sheri Pym of California last month ordered Apple to provide the FBI with software to help it hack into Farook’s work-issued iPhone. The order touched off a debate pitting digital privacy rights against national security concerns.
Apple was headed for a courtroom showdown with the government last week. But federal prosecutors abruptly asked for a postponement so they could test a potential solution brought to them by a party outside of the U.S. government last Sunday.
The case drew international attention and highlighted a growing friction between governments and the tech industry. Apple and other tech companies have said they feel increasing need to protect their customers’ data from hackers while police and other government authorities warn that encryption and other data-protection measures are making it more difficult for investigators to track criminals and dangerous extremists.
Apple CEO Tim Cook had argued that helping the FBI hack the iPhone would set a dangerous precedent and make all iPhone users vulnerable. He called for Congress to take up the issue.
Attorney Stephen Larson filed a brief in support of the Justice Department’s case and represents seven families of those killed in the attack. “For this to have dragged out in court battles would not have served the interests of either” the victims or law enforcement, he said.
Alex Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union which filed a brief supporting Apple in its case, said the case is far from settled and that it was “just a delay of an inevitable fight” about whether the government can force a company like Apple to undermine the security of its products to facilitate an investigation.