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.

Popular Stories

iPhone SE 4 Vertical Camera Feature

iPhone SE 4 Rumored to Use Same Rear Chassis as iPhone 16

Friday July 19, 2024 7:16 am PDT by
Apple will adopt the same rear chassis manufacturing process for the iPhone SE 4 that it is using for the upcoming standard iPhone 16, claims a new rumor coming out of China. According to the Weibo-based leaker "Fixed Focus Digital," the backplate manufacturing process for the iPhone SE 4 is "exactly the same" as the standard model in Apple's upcoming iPhone 16 lineup, which is expected to...
iPhone 16 Pro Sizes Feature

iPhone 16 Series Is Just Two Months Away: Everything We Know

Monday July 15, 2024 4:44 am PDT by
Apple typically releases its new iPhone series around mid-September, which means we are about two months out from the launch of the iPhone 16. Like the iPhone 15 series, this year's lineup is expected to stick with four models – iPhone 16, iPhone 16 Plus, iPhone 16 Pro, and iPhone 16 Pro Max – although there are plenty of design differences and new features to take into account. To bring ...
bsod

Crowdstrike Says Global IT Outage Impacting Windows PCs, But Mac and Linux Hosts Not Affected

Friday July 19, 2024 3:12 am PDT by
A widespread system failure is currently affecting numerous Windows devices globally, causing critical boot failures across various industries, including banks, rail networks, airlines, retailers, broadcasters, healthcare, and many more sectors. The issue, manifesting as a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), is preventing computers from starting up properly and forcing them into continuous recovery...
iphone 14 lineup

Cellebrite Unable to Unlock iPhones on iOS 17.4 or Later, Leak Reveals

Thursday July 18, 2024 4:18 am PDT by
Israel-based mobile forensics company Cellebrite is unable to unlock iPhones running iOS 17.4 or later, according to leaked documents verified by 404 Media. The documents provide a rare glimpse into the capabilities of the company's mobile forensics tools and highlight the ongoing security improvements in Apple's latest devices. The leaked "Cellebrite iOS Support Matrix" obtained by 404 Media...
Apple Watch Series 9

2024 Apple Watch Lineup: Key Changes We're Expecting

Tuesday July 16, 2024 7:59 am PDT by
Apple is seemingly planning a rework of the Apple Watch lineup for 2024, according to a range of reports from over the past year. Here's everything we know so far. Apple is expected to continue to offer three different Apple Watch models in five casing sizes, but the various display sizes will allegedly grow by up to 12% and the casings will get taller. Based on all of the latest rumors,...
tinypod apple watch

TinyPod Turns Your Apple Watch Into an iPod

Wednesday July 17, 2024 3:18 pm PDT by
If you have an old Apple Watch and you're not sure what to do with it, a new product called TinyPod might be the answer. Priced at $79, the TinyPod is a silicone case with a built-in scroll wheel that houses the Apple Watch chassis. When an Apple Watch is placed inside the TinyPod, the click wheel on the case is able to be used to scroll through the Apple Watch interface. The feature works...

Top Rated Comments

imwoblin Avatar
108 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
108 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
108 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
108 months ago
Fbi is a joke. They try to make a point and it means nothing. Salut
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kch50428 Avatar
108 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
108 months ago
Their plans will fail. The hack will become public at some point.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)