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
73 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
73 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
73 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
73 months ago
Fbi is a joke. They try to make a point and it means nothing. Salut
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kch50428 Avatar
73 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
73 months ago
Their plans will fail. The hack will become public at some point.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

airtag in hand

Apple AirTag Linked to Increasing Number of Car Thefts, Canadian Police Report

Friday December 3, 2021 7:10 am PST by
Apple's AirTags are being used in an increasing number of targeted car thefts in Canada, according to local police. Outlined in a news release from York Regional Police, investigators have identified a new method being used by thieves to track down and steal high-end vehicles that takes advantage of the AirTag's location tracking capabilities. While the method of stealing the cars is largely ...
telsa cyberwhistle

Elon Musk Urges Customers to Buy 'Tesla Cyberwhistle' Instead of Apple Polishing Cloth

Wednesday December 1, 2021 4:01 am PST by
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has encouraged customers to buy the "Cyberwhistle" for $50 instead of Apple's much-discussed Polishing Cloth. The product page, which Musk shared on Twitter on Tuesday evening, offers a limited edition stainless steel whistle with the same distinctive design of the Tesla Cybertruck:Inspired by Cybertruck, the limited-edition Cyberwhistle is a premium collectible made from ...
maxresdefault

Five Features to Look Forward to in the 2022 MacBook Air

Tuesday November 30, 2021 1:51 pm PST by
In 2022, Apple is going to release an updated version of the MacBook Air with some of the biggest design changes that we've seen since 2010, when Apple introduced the 11 and 13-inch size options. In the video below, we highlight five features that you need to know about the new machine. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. No More Wedge Design - Current MacBook...
apple top apps games 2020

Apple Reveals the Most Downloaded iOS Apps and Games of 2021

Thursday December 2, 2021 12:05 am PST by
Along with naming its editorial picks for the top apps and games of 2021, Apple today shared charts for the most downloaded free and paid apps and games in the United States across 2021. The number one most downloaded free iPhone app was TikTok, followed by YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. The top paid iPhone apps included Procreate Pocket, HotSchedules, The Wonder Weeks, and Touch...
iPhone SE Cosmopolitan Clean

New iPhone SE Reportedly on Track for Release in First Quarter of 2022

Tuesday November 30, 2021 8:08 am PST by
Apple plans to release a third-generation iPhone SE in the first quarter of 2022, according to Taiwanese research firm TrendForce. If this timeframe proves to be accurate, we can expect the device to be released by the end of March. As previously rumored, TrendForce said the new iPhone SE will remain a mid-range smartphone with added support for 5G:In terms of product development, Apple is...
m3 feature black

Macs With 'M3' Chips Expected to Use TSMC's 3nm Chip Technology With Test Production Reportedly Underway

Thursday December 2, 2021 7:36 am PST by
Apple's chipmaking partner TSMC has kicked off pilot production of chips built on its 3nm process, known as N3, according to Taiwanese supply chain publication DigiTimes. The report, citing unnamed industry sources, claims that TSMC will move the process to volume production by the fourth quarter of 2022 and start shipping 3nm chips to customers like Apple and Intel in the first quarter of...
apple view concept right corner

Apple Planning to Replace the iPhone With AR Headset in 10 Years

Wednesday December 1, 2021 2:29 am PST by
Apple is planning to replace the iPhone with an augmented reality (AR) headset in 10 years, a process that is apparently due to start as soon as next year with the launch of a head-mounted device, according to a recent report. Concept render of Apple's rumored AR headset by Antonio De Rosa In a note to investors seen by MacRumors, eminent analyst Ming-Chi Kuo explained that "Apple's goal is...