FBI Plans to Keep iPhone Hacking Method Secret [Update: Confirmed]

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation will keep the method that it used to hack into the iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook a secret, reports The Wall Street Journal. Citing sources with knowledge of the FBI's plans, the report suggests the FBI will tell the White House that an internal government review does not make sense because it "knows so little" about the hacking tool that was employed.

A government review under the U.S. Vulnerabilities Equities Process, which allows federal agencies to determine whether or not critical security flaws should be shared with companies, would potentially lead to an order to disclose the security vulnerability to Apple. Without a review, Apple may not find out how the iPhone was breached.

applefbi

The decision, and the technical and bureaucratic justification behind it, would likely keep Apple in the dark about whatever security gap exists on certain models of the company's phones, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The Wall Street Journal's report comes following a statement made by FBI Director James Comey at a cybersecurity event in Washington D.C., which was shared by Reuters. According to Comey, the FBI is still in the process of determining whether or not a government review should move forward.

"We are in the midst of trying to sort that out," Comey said. "The threshold (for disclosure) is, are we aware of the vulnerability, or did we just buy a tool and don't have sufficient knowledge of the vulnerability to implicate the process?"

"We are close to a resolution," he added at a cybersecurity event at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Sources that spoke to Reuters say the Vulnerabilities Equities Process is not set up to handle flaws that are discovered and owned by private companies, with Comey's statement suggesting the FBI does not own the method used to hack the iPhone.

To break into Farook's iPhone 5c, the FBI employed the help of "professional hackers," paying upwards of $1.3 million for a tool exploiting a security vulnerability. While Apple would like details on the flaw so a fix can be implemented, the FBI can keep using the vulnerability so long as it remains unpatched.

The FBI has said the method used to break into the iPhone 5c does not work on the iPhone 5s and later, but it can be used to access iPhone 5c devices running iOS 9.

Update 4/27: In a statement shared by The New York Times, the FBI has confirmed that it will not give Apple details on the hacking method used to break into the iPhone.

"The F.B.I. purchased the method from an outside party so that we could unlock the San Bernardino device," Amy S. Hess, executive assistant director for science and technology, said in a statement.

"We did not, however, purchase the rights to technical details about how the method functions, or the nature and extent of any vulnerability upon which the method may rely in order to operate. As a result, currently we do not have enough technical information about any vulnerability that would permit any meaningful review" by the White House examiners, she said.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

imwoblin Avatar
69 months ago
I see they are following the playbook once again.
Rule Number One; Do as I say, not as I do...
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
fitshaced Avatar
69 months ago
Translation: we realised that all we had to do was swipe to the right. There was no passcode.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
doelcm82 Avatar
69 months ago
Agree, the whole thing was mishandled and primarily by Apple. Coupled with a possible quarterly revenue decline for the first time in what seems like forever, this suspicion of Apple not knowing how the FBI cracked the phone is bad news in Cupertino.
I think Apple has handled this situation fine.

The US Government now has access to a vulnerability in an older model iPhone that Apple no longer sells. Apple "failed" to make this device safe from being hacked in this way. But their failure was something they did years ago, and not something they could have fixed on this particular phone. On top of that Apple already knew that the architecture of this phone's hardware was vulnerable. Newer iPhones have a different security architecture.

From my perspective, Apple's goal in this case was not to keep the FBI out of the iPhone 5C. If the vulnerability existed, no amount of press conferences, interviews, or even furious coding on Apple's part would have made a difference.

Apple's goal in this case was to prevent the government from legally forcing Apple to find and exploit the vulnerability. So far, the government has backed down.

Apple's primary ongoing security goal is to keep Apple's customers' data safe from attack, even by experts who know the system. They are continuing along that path.

The longer Apple can keep the government from getting a legal precedent that keeps Apple from pursuing its primary security goal, the safer Apple's customers' data will be.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jmh600cbr Avatar
69 months ago
Fbi is a joke. They try to make a point and it means nothing. Salut
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kch50428 Avatar
69 months ago
The FBI will keep it secret... the same FBI from an administration that said we could keep our doctors and health care plans... look how well that worked...
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
rdlink Avatar
69 months ago
Their plans will fail. The hack will become public at some point.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

REC ASA CODE2016 20160601 205816 2745

Elon Musk Reportedly Demanded to Become Apple CEO as Part of Potential Tesla Acquisition [Update: Musk Denies]

Friday July 30, 2021 9:04 am PDT by
Tesla CEO Elon Musk reportedly once demanded that he be made Apple CEO in a brief discussion of a potential acquisition with Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook. The claim comes in a new book titled "Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century," as reviewed by The Los Angeles Times. According to the book, during a 2016 phone call between Musk and Cook that touched on the possibility of ...
General Apps Messages

Android iMessage Competitor Puts Pressure on Apple

Friday July 30, 2021 3:15 am PDT by
Google and the three major U.S. carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, will all support a new communications protocol on Android smartphones starting in 2022, a move that puts pressure on Apple to adopt a new cross-platform messaging standard and may present a challenge to iMessage. Verizon recently announced that it is planning to adopt Messages by Google as its default messaging...
Apple watch series 5 new case material made of titanium 091019

Titanium Apple Watch Series 6 Models Currently Widely Unavailable

Sunday August 1, 2021 6:21 am PDT by
Models of the Apple Watch Series 6 with titanium cases part of the "Apple Watch Edition" collection is currently widely unavailable for pick-up in several of Apple's retail stores in the United States and is unavailable entirely for delivery in major markets. Noted by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman in the latest edition of his "Power On" newsletter, titanium models of the Apple Watch Series 6,...
ifixit iphone12 mini

Apple to Make Space for Larger Batteries in iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks By Adopting Slimmer Peripheral Chips

Monday August 2, 2021 2:12 am PDT by
For future iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, Apple plans to use smaller internal components in an effort to increase the size of the device's battery, according to DigiTimes. Image Credit: iFixit Specifically, Apple plans to "significantly increase the adoption" of IPDs or integrated passive devices for the peripheral chips in its products. These news chips will be slimmer in size and allow for...
Flat 2021 MacBook Pro Mockup Feature

Unreleased Apple Macs and Apple Watches Listed in Eurasian Database Ahead of Fall Product Launches

Monday August 2, 2021 9:34 am PDT by
Apple is preparing for a slew of fall product launches according to new filings that showed up today in the Eurasian Economic Commission database. There are listings for new Mac and Apple Watch models, all of which have previously unknown model identifiers that indicate that they're upcoming devices. There are six new Apple Watch identifiers, including A2473, A2474, A2475, A2476, A2477, and...
a15 chip

iPhone 13 and Redesigned MacBook Pro Chip Production Hit With Gas Contamination

Friday July 30, 2021 5:44 am PDT by
The most important TSMC factory that manufactures Apple's chips destined for next-generation iPhone and Mac models has been hit by a gas contamination, according to Nikkei Asia. The factory, known as "Fab 18," is TSMC's most advanced chipmaking facility. TSMC is Apple's sole chip supplier, making all of the processors used in every Apple device with a custom silicon chip. Industry...
iPhone 13 Wi Fi 6E feature update

Wi-Fi 6E Explained: What It Could Mean for iPhone 13 and Beyond

Monday August 2, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
The iPhone 13 is widely expected to come with Wi-Fi 6E capabilities, and while it may seem rather nuanced to the average consumer, with only improved speeds and being "up to date" in the realm of Wi-Fi technology, it's actually a fairly significant improvement, laying the groundwork for much of what we know the future holds. To truly understand Wi-Fi 6E, MacRumors sat down for an exclusive...
youtube premium lite

YouTube Tests Cheaper 'Premium Lite' Subscription for Ad-Free Viewing

Monday August 2, 2021 3:22 am PDT by
YouTube is piloting a new cheaper subscription tier in Europe called "Premium Lite," which offers ad-free viewing minus YouTube Premium's other features. First spotted by a user on ResetEra and subsequently confirmed by Google, the "Lite" plan means users who aren't interested in offline downloads or background playback can still enjoy YouTube videos on web and mobile app without being...
iPhone 13 Always On Feature

iPhone 13 to Bring Over a Major Feature From the Apple Watch

Wednesday July 28, 2021 2:21 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone 13 lineup will feature an always-on display akin to the Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6, according to recent reports. In his weekly Power On newsletter, Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman, who often reveals accurate insights into Apple's plans, said that the iPhone 13 may feature an Apple Watch-inspired always-on mode. The Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch...
COVID19 Digital Wallet Apple Wallet

Australian Government Now Offering COVID-19 Digital Vaccination Certificates for Apple Wallet

Monday August 2, 2021 12:04 am PDT by
The Australian government has introduced support for adding COVID-19 vaccination digital certificates to Apple Wallet via the Express Plus Medicare app on iOS. Image credit: Tap Down Under As spotted by Tap Down Under, users who have received two doses of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine now have access to the digital certificate through their Medicare online account or via the Medica...