FBI director James Comey says that the law enforcement agency purchased a tool from third party to unlock the iPhone 5c of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooter and that the method works only on a slice of iPhone devices which does not include iPhone 5s or any newer Apple device.
Litigation between the government and Apple over the San Bernardino phone has ended, because the government has purchased, from a private party, a way to get into that phone, 5C, running iOS 9.
The law enforcement agency has confirmed in late March that they had finally cracked into the shooter’s iPhone 5c, but at the time, they refrained from going into further details, other than to say that they used assistance from an unnamed third-party.
In case you missed the real story, the government had pursued legal action against Apple in an effort to access information stored on the iPhone 5c of the shooter by helping the law enforcement agency bypass the phone’s security features. Apple declined to provide any such assistance and vowed to not compromise the overall security of all the iPhone users. The fruit company argued that the law enforcement agency didn’t understand the consequences of creating a backdoor into their smartphones.
After the case was dropped, speculation swirled as analysts and reporters tried to identify the unnamed 3rd-party that helped government unlock the phone. On Wednesday, Comey revealed additional information about the source of the tool:
The people we bought this from, I know a fair amount about them, and I have a high degree of confidence that they are very good at protecting it, and their motivations align with ours.
As for whether the government will tell Apple how it pulled off the hack and how they managed to retrieve all the data, Comey said that the government is currently debating this. If they share the hack with Apple, they will be quick to fix it, and then both parties will be back to square one.
While Comey did not reveal the name of the third-party company from whom FBI purchased the tool, various reports believe that it’s been sourced from an Israeli company called Cellebrite. Comey, however, confirms that the method only works on certain old devices and does not apply to iPhone 5s or any new iPhone device.