The FBI is not sharing with Apple how it hacked into the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook because they don't have the rights to the information.
The FBI's executive assistant director for science and technology, Amy S. Hess, told reporters Wednesday that the bureau purchased a method from a third party that let them get into the phone, but they did not acquire "the rights to technical details about how the method functions."
In February, a federal judge ruled that Apple had to help the FBI gain access to Farook's locked phone. While Apple was fighting the court order, a third party was successful in unlocking the phone, and the case was dropped. Catherine Garcia
The FBI reportedly paid a group of hackers to break into the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone for them
After Apple refused the FBI's request to help break into San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone, the bureau reportedly turned to its next best option: professional hackers. According to a report by The Washington Post published late Tuesday, the FBI ended up paying a group of professional hackers a one-time fee to crack open Farook's iPhone.
The unnamed hackers discovered "at least one previously unknown software flaw" that allowed them to defeat the device's security, The Post reports. They then used that flaw to create hardware that helped them open the iPhone without triggering the security feature that would've erased all of the phone's data after too many incorrect login attempts.
Now, in a twist of fate, the FBI is faced with the question of whether they'll help Apple by letting them in on the software flaw the hackers discovered. "It's an interesting conversation because, we tell Apple, they fix it and then we're back to where we started from," FBI Director James Comey said, though he admitted the agency is "considering" it. Becca Stanek
On Friday, a judge ordered Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking an iPhone in a Boston gang case, despite the tech company's objections about privacy and national security. The ruling comes as the Justice Department filed an appeal Friday requesting the company's help in another criminal case, this one involving the locked iPhone of a convicted drug dealer in a New York investigation. Though the Justice Department was able to move forward without Apple's help in breaking into the San Bernardino attacker's iPhone — another high-profile battle between the FBI and Apple — the FBI's director says the government's technique does not work on all iPhone models. Becca Stanek
Speaking at Ohio’s Kenyon College on Wednesday evening, FBI Director James Comey insisted that his agency's success in unlocking an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters would not put other iPhone users at risk.
"The FBI is very good at keeping secrets," he said. "And the people we bought this [iPhone key] 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."
But Comey's confidence is not shared by digital security experts outside the government, and particularly within Apple itself. "Flaws of this nature have a pretty short life cycle," said one senior Apple engineer. "Most of these things do come to light."
A prosecutor in Arkansas said after he heard that the FBI was able to hack into an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, he asked for assistance in unlocking an iPhone 6 and iPod belonging to two suspects in a murder case.
"The iPod had just come into our possession a couple of weeks ago," said Cody Hiland, prosecuting attorney for the 20th Judicial District. "Obviously, when we heard that [the FBI] had been able to crack that phone we wanted to at least ask and see if they wanted to help." The FBI has agreed to help, but it's unclear if they will be using the same method that allowed them to gain access to Farook's phone, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Encryption has become an issue for law enforcement, with police departments pointing to phones that they can't unlock just sitting in evidence. The devices Hiland wants unlocked belong to suspects in the July murder of Robert and Patricia Cogdell in their home outside of Little Rock. An FBI official told the Times it's possible the method used on Farook's phone might not work on other devices, and it's unlikely the process will be used in cases that would result in criminal prosecutions, as the method would become subject to discovery at trial. Catherine Garcia
Even if Apple caves to federal demands, there will still be plenty of ways to encrypt our communications
Google, Facebook, and messaging apps Snapchat and WhatsApp are all working to add extra security measures to their users' communications. These encryption projects began before the Apple controversy became public and will build on varying privacy features the services already maintain.
For WhatsApp in particular, however, federal attention may be on its way. The New York Times reported Saturday that unnamed Justice Department officials expect WhatsApp's strong encryption could well be the next target of a case like the one Apple is fighting now.
WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, who hails from Soviet-era Ukraine, has made clear that his encryption will not easily collapse under government pressure. "Our freedom and our liberty are at stake," he said in response to the FBI's attack on Apple. Bonnie Kristian
Apple attorney Ted Olson thinks the implications of the tech company losing its standoff with the FBI over refusing to unlock the San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook's iPhone would extend far past just compromising the security of the iPhone. Rather, Olson told CNN Money in an interview Friday, a loss for Apple would be a loss for the American people.
Olson said that if Apple were to comply with the FBI's request for assistance in investigating the San Bernardino terrorist attack that left 14 dead by opening a "back door" on the iPhone, it could also open the door to greater — possibly even "limitless" — government power to "listen to your conversations."
"You can imagine every different law enforcement official telling Apple we want a new product to get into something," Olson said. "Even a state judge could order Apple to build something. There's no stopping point. That would lead to a police state."
While Olson declined to say just how far Apple would go in its legal battle to avoid putting "an Achilles heel on the iPhone," he did mention the possibility of the case going all the way to the Supreme Court. "It's very easy to say 'terrorism is involved' and therefore you should do whatever the government wants to do," Olson said. "But just because you're using the word 'terrorism,' you don't want to violate the civil liberties that all of us cherish." Becca Stanek
Apple filed a motion Thursday asking a federal magistrate to vacate the order that it unlock San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook's iPhone. The company says the FBI seeks "dangerous power" in its request in the investigation of the Dec. 2 attack that killed 14 people.
"This is not a case about one isolated iPhone," Apple's motion reads. "Rather, this case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe." Becca Stanek