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LAPD can also unlock iPhones without Apple’s help

Published May 5th, 2016 7:15AM EDT
LAPD iPhone 5s Unlock
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

It’s not just the FBI that has the technical ability to unlock password-protected iPhones without triggering kill-switch mechanisms – all without any help from Apple. LAPD can also hack into certain iPhones. The FBI cracked the San Bernardino iPhone 5c, and the LAPD hacked an iPhone 5s belonging to the wife of The Shield actor Michael Jace. In both cases, expertise from forensic experts was used.

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It’s not clear at this time how the LAPD unlocked the iPhone 5s, but police did obtain access to the data on the phone without Apple’s help.

The FBI said the iPhone 5c (iOS 9) hack it purchased for less than $1 million from a mysterious third party only worked on a limited number of iPhones. That method apparently can’t be used on any new iPhone, and it can’t be used on the iPhone 5s.

The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c were launched simultaneously. But the iPhone 5s packs a 64-bit processor. One of the chip’s advantages is that it offers better protection against hacks.

Court records obtained by the L.A. Times reveal that LAPD detectives found an alternative way to bypass the security of the iPhone 5s, but the documentation doesn’t mention what operating system the phone is running.

The search warrant doesn’t detail the method used or who the “forensic cellphone expert” who could “override the locked iPhone function” is.

Michael Jace is suspected to have shot and killed his wife April on May 19th, 2014. Investigators say that the actor and wife argued “about their relationship” via text message shortly before he opened fire.

In 2015, an Apple technician was ordered by an L.A. judge to help police extract data from the phone’s storage. In late January, an investigator with the L.A. County district attorney’s office again tried to access data, but could only retrieve the contents of the SIM card.

After determining in February that April’s phone would not turn on, authorities found a forensic cellphone expert in March that could “override” the security features and unlock the iPhone. In April, a senior investigator with the district attorney’s office and Jace’s private cellphone expert were able to examine the phone.

It’s not clear whether the phone offered any relevant information. Jace is currently awaiting trial.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.