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FBI’s secret iPhone hacking method may not be a secret for long

iPhone Hacking

With the FBI reportedly employing the services of an Israeli forensic software company to access the San Bernardino shooter’s locked iPhone, you might be forgiven for thinking that the back and forth legal battle between Apple and the FBI is finally coming to an end.

The reality, though, is a bit more complex. Even if the FBI successfully manages to access the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, Bloomberg relays that the FBI might be obligated to divulge the mechanics of the hack to Apple.

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“The FBI’s new tactic may be subject to a relatively new and little-known rule that would require the government to tell Apple about any vulnerability potentially affecting millions of iPhones unless it can show a group of administration officials that there’s a substantial national security need to keep the flaw secret,” the report states. “This process, known as an equities review, was created by the Obama administration to determine if new security flaws should be kept secret or disclosed, and gives the government a specific time frame for alerting companies to the flaws.”

Now imagine if the FBI is ultimately forced to reveal the workaround to Apple, what happens next? Well, more than likely, Apple would take immediate steps to patch up the means by which the FBI was able to circumvent iOS’ security protections.

And next thing you know, we’re right back at square one. Indeed, this is precisely why the issue of mobile encryption isn’t going to go away until Congress figures out a way to handle it. Notably, Apple has already indicated that if the FBI’s workaround solution proves successful, it would like to be aware of the methods involved.

One wrinkle to be aware of, according to former FBI special agent Leo Taddeo, is that if the hack used by the FBI is sufficiently complex such that it can’t be easily replicated by laypeople, the FBI may not be forced to reveal its tactics to Apple.

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.