The Federal Bureau of Investigations might not be forthcoming with Apple in divulging how it hacked into the San Bernardino iPhone 5c, but it is pledging to help other law enforcement authorities crack encrypted devices. In a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, the FBI stops just short of saying it will offer up the same third-party tool used to unlock the terrorist’s iPhone 5c.
Officials haven’t divulged which outside party demonstrated the exploit, but the rumor mill suggests it was Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite. Prior to the exploit being demonstrated to the FBI, a heated court battle was taking place in which the government was trying to compel Apple to write a custom version of iOS that would allow a brute force attack on the handset.
In the letter, the FBI acknowledges the challenges posed by encrypted devices, and says it “will of course consider any tool that might be helpful to our partners.” There will likely be limitations to any use of the tool used in the San Bernardino case, however, because the technique has been classified by the agency, according to BuzzFeed News.
If they really care about public safety, they must disclose the vulnerability they used to Apple to prevent criminals, hackers, and terrorists from exploiting the same security flaw and using it to do harm.
In a statement by advocacy group Fight for the Future, the FBI is called upon to disclose whatever vulnerability was exploited to open the iPhone 5c. The group claims that if the FBI truly cares about public safety, “they must disclose the vulnerability they used to Apple to prevent criminals, hackers, and terrorists from exploiting the same security flaw and using it to do harm.” The statement goes on to point out the importance of encryption for hospitals, airports, power plants, and water treatment facilities.
Unless it’s forced to reveal its method, either by a court or by Congress, I sincerely doubt the FBI will do so. Revealing the vulnerability would allow Apple to patch it, which is something the law enforcement agency certainly doesn’t want to see happen.