The San Bernardino iPhone doesn’t contain relevant information for the ongoing investigation of the December mass shooting, but that doesn’t mean the government will share with Apple what security hole was exploited to unlock it. A new report reveals that the company who helped the FBI crack the iPhone has sole legal ownership of the hack, White House sources revealed, which means it’s unlikely the government will disclose it to any entity, including Apple.
White House sources familiar with the matter spoke to Reuters, saying that there’s a procedure in place to review technology security flaws and deciding which ones should be made public, under the Vulnerabilities Equities Process. But the White House can’t and won’t reveal flaws discovered and owned by private companies.
It’s not clear at this time what entity helped the FBI. Some claim that Cellebrite developed the iPhone 5c unlock method, while others suggest professional hackers developed a zero-day attack to get into the phone. It’s not clear whether there’s any connection between the two.
Regardless of who developed the iPhone hack, the FBI can’t submit the method to the Vulnerabilities Equities Process without the cooperation of said third party.
The FBI probably doesn’t know exactly how the hack works, only that it does, government sources say, including Rob Knake, a former White House staffer who managed the process.
The Vulnerabilities Equities Process “was not set up for a world of commoditized exploitation,” Knake said. “There is no way the government could force companies to share the methods that they are trying to sell, or any way to stop government agencies from buying from those companies.”
The hack is believed to only work on the iPhone 5c (and perhaps older models). The FBI continues to pursue in court a similar case against Apple, looking to force the tech company to unlock an iPhone 5s that’s part of a criminal investigation.