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

(View all)
Avatar
58 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)
Avatar
58 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)
Avatar
58 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)
Avatar
58 months ago
Fbi is a joke. They try to make a point and it means nothing. Salut
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
58 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)
Avatar
58 months ago
Their plans will fail. The hack will become public at some point.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Leaker: 'iPhone 12 mini' and iPhone 12 Storage Capacities Start at 64GB, Pro Models at 128GB

Tuesday September 29, 2020 2:31 am PDT by
Rumors suggest Apple's iPhone 12 launch event will be held on October 13, with the more affordable 5.4 and 6.1-inch devices set to ship out ahead of the more expensive 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch Pro devices, and this morning hit-and-miss leaker Jon Prosser has further committed to that date by providing alleged details on Apple's first shipment of finalized iPhone 12 units. Prosser claims the...

Hands-On With iOS 14.2's New Shazam Music Recognition Toggle in Control Center

Monday September 28, 2020 2:35 pm PDT by
Shortly after launching iOS 14, Apple introduced an upcoming iOS 14.2 update, which is now available to developers and public beta testers ahead of a public release that could come at some point in October. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The iOS 14.2 update mainly focuses on the Control Center, introducing a new Music Recognition toggle that deepens the Shazam...

iPhone 12 'Pro Max' Model to Sport Unique High-End Features

Wednesday September 30, 2020 2:01 am PDT by
The upcoming "iPhone 12 Pro Max" is anticipated to have a number of unique high-end features not found on any other iPhone, such as its screen size, LiDAR scanner, faster 5G, and potentially a higher display refresh rate. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is also expected to be the largest ever iPhone, with a 6.7-inch display. Previously, the largest iPhones have been 6.5-inches in the iPhone XS Max and ...

DigiTimes: 12.9-inch Mini-LED iPad Pro Arriving Early 2021, Mini-LED MacBook Coming Later

Tuesday September 29, 2020 4:18 am PDT by
Apple will launch a 12.9-inch mini LED-backlit iPad Pro in early 2021 and a mini LED-backlit MacBook in the second-half of next year, according to DigiTimes. The Taiwan-based industry publication claims Epistar will supply the over-10,000 mini LEDs used in each iPad Pro tablet. Meanwhile, Apple is expected to recruit Osram Opto as another supplier of mini LEDs for use in a new "high-end"...

iOS 14.2 Suggests Apple Won't Include EarPods in the Box With iPhone 12

Tuesday September 29, 2020 2:19 pm PDT by
Rumors have suggested that Apple's iPhone 12 models will not include power adapters or EarPods in the box, and a minor code tweak in iOS 14.2 seemingly confirms Apple's plan to sell the new devices without EarPods. In iOS 14 and earlier versions of iOS, there's a mention of reducing exposure to RF energy by using the "supplied headphones," which is the same wording that Apple has used for...

iPhone 12 Production Lines at Foxconn's Zhengzhou Factory in China Running '24 Hours a Day'

Tuesday September 29, 2020 3:38 am PDT by
Apple contract manufacturer Foxconn is running its massive Zhengzhou factory in China 24 hours a day to produce the new iPhone 12, according to Chinese media reports. Apple's main iPhone manufacturer in China is said to be cancelling workers' holidays and introducing mandatory overtime with additional bonuses for longer-serving staff, according to information garnered from employees,...

iPhone 12 May Launch Earlier Than Usual in South Korea

Monday September 28, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
The upcoming iPhone 12 lineup may launch earlier than usual in South Korea, reports The Korea Herald. South Korean telecoms firms speaking to The Korea Herald have said that the iPhone 12 lineup will launch ahead of its usual schedule. Normally, the release of new iPhones in South Korea comes about one month after launch in the United States. Last year, the iPhone 11 arrived in South Korea ...

iOS 14.2 Beta 2 Adds New Emoji Characters like Ninja, Pinata, Bubble Tea, Polar Bear and More

Tuesday September 29, 2020 11:22 am PDT by
The second beta of iOS 14.2 introduces the new Emoji 13 characters that Apple previewed earlier this year as part of World Emoji Day. New emoji options include ninja, people hugging, black cat, bison, fly, polar bear, blueberries, fondue, bubble tea, and more, with a list below. Faces - Smiling Face with Tear, Disguised Face People - Ninja, Person in Tuxedo, Woman in Tuxedo, Person...

Epic Games Unlikely to Win Injunction in Ongoing Fortnite Battle With Apple, Jury Trial Possible

Monday September 28, 2020 1:14 pm PDT by
The ongoing legal dispute between Apple and Epic Games continued on today, with a preliminary injunction hearing taking place this morning. We're still waiting to hear the judge's official ruling, but it looks like Epic is not going to be granted an injunction to allow Fortnite back into the App Store as the case unfolds. Many of the arguments that lawyers for Apple and Epic Games made were...

Apple Releases Ninth Beta of macOS Big Sur to Developers

Tuesday September 29, 2020 10:07 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the Ninth beta of an upcoming macOS Big Sur update to developers for testing purposes, a week after releasing the eighth beta and more than two months after the new update was unveiled at the Worldwide Developers Conference. The macOS Big Sur beta can be downloaded through the Apple Developer Center and once the appropriate profile is installed, subsequent betas will be...