The FBI might be able to crack the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone without Apple’s help

Pierluigi Paganini March 22, 2016

The US authorities announced on Monday they may have found a way to unlock the San Bernardino shooters iPhone without the Apple’s help.

The FBI says it may have discovered a method to bypass Apple security measures and unlock access the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers, and a today scheduled court hearing in the case has been postponed.

We have discussed a lot on the case FBI vs Apple, last week DOJ released a brief filing that threatens to force Apple to hand over the iOS source code if it will not help FBI in unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, meanwhile Edward Snowden accused the FBI of lying about his ability to unlock the mobile device.

The legal battle between Apple and the FBI raised the debate about the implementation of strong encryption in commercial products, a design choice that doesn’t allow authorities to conduct crime investigations. On December 2015, Hillary Clinton called tech companies to create a Manhattan Project for Encryption.

Now it seems that we are at the terminus, on Sunday, March 20, 2016, an independent party demonstrated to the US authorities a technique for unlocking the controversial iPhone.

“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone,” revealed the lawyers for the US Government in a court filing Monday afternoon. “Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case,” 

The court filing doesn’t provide technical details on the technique, but this could represent the end of the fights, at least one important truce. Several third parties provided the FBI a number of suggestions for how it could crack the iPhone.

San Bernardino case Apple vs FBI

Apple is also worried that the San Bernardino case could set a legal precedent that would force IT giants to provide government access to users’ data even when these are protected by encryption.

In a court filing Monday, the FBI confirms that its experts have continued to look for a method to crack iPhone devices, even without the Apple’s help.

“Our top priority has always been gaining access into the phone used by the terrorist in San Bernardino,” explained the Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman. “With this goal in mind, the FBI has continued in its efforts to gain access to the phone without Apple’s assistance, even during a month-long period of litigation with the company.”

Many experts speculate the FBI plans to access data by cloning the device until it is not able to guess the secret passcode. Basically, the experts will make an attempt to find the password for each against each copy.

Anyway, whatever method FBI will use, the government will file a status report by April 5, reveal the results of the procedure.

The unique certainly at the moment is the suspension of the order requiring Apple to help the FBI.

On the other side, Apple’s lawyers confirmed that the company will never provide help to the FBI.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, hacking)

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