I’ve long been skeptical of the U.S. federal government’s claim that it needs Apple’s help to unlock the iPhone 5c owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in last year’s San Bernardino massacre. I frankly find it implausible that neither the FBI nor the NSA has the resources needed to successfully hack a single iPhone that released more than two years ago.
Andrew Zonenberg, a Senior Security Consultant at IOActive, says that the FBI has the option of “de-capping” the device’s memory chip and hacking into it once it’s removed from the phone. That said, this technique also carries a risk of destroying the chip entirely and it also will likely take months of work to do properly.
“In the simplest terms, Zonenberg said the idea is to take the chip from the iPhone, use a strong acid to remove the chip’s encapsulation, and then physically, very carefully drill down into the chip itself using a focused ion beam,” ABC News explains.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first mentioned this method last week when he claimed that the FBI had other methods for accessing Farook’s iPhone 5c despite the claims it made in its court filings. Whether this method is worth the risk of completely frying the device’s chip, however, remains to be seen.