FBI Unlocks San Bernardino Gunman’s iPhone Without The Help Of Apple

A court hearing was supposed to have taken place in California on Tuesday in order to come to a decision regarding whether Apple should yield to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) request to access a locked iPhone belonging to a terrorist.

However, on Monday, the agency halted the hearing, stating that it has already found a way to get into the iPhone without Apple’s help.

While this means that there won’t be any more legal cases between the agency and Apple for the time being, the question remains: Did the FBI know in the first place that there is, in fact, another way to hack into the device without seeking Apple’s help?

In the legal papers submitted by the federal agency, it said that it has been able to seek help from a non-government third party to provide a way to get into the iPhone.

“We only learned about this possibility today, this morning, about this possibility that Apple is not necessary,” Assistant U.S. attorney Tracy Wilkison said to the judge in the document.

According to a report, the FBI may have resorted to getting the services of Cellebrite, an Israel-based mobile forensics firm that has long been boasting itself as capable of hacking into Apple devices.

The FBI is saying that they were only caught off guard by the security feature and thought that they needed Apple’s help in order to break in.

Even in previous hearings that were related to the case, before it went to court with the tech giant, the FBI was asked whether it has used all available technologies in accessing the iPhone.

“You’re expecting somebody to obey an order to do something they don’t want to do, and you haven’t even figured out whether you could do it yourself,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif).

Furthermore, experts are saying that even with Apple’s security capabilities, no device is completely immune to hacking and that the FBI knows that as well.

“The FBI’s last-minute excuse is about as believable as an undergrad who comes down with the flu the night before their paper is due,” said Evan Greer, who is the campaign director for the digital rights advocacy organization, Fight for the Future.

Another theory came up, claiming that the FBI has already contracted Cellebrite a few times over the last five years, allowing the firm to hack its way into devices they wish to break into. The report said that the company has already received $2 million since 2012 in its tie-up with the FBI.

Ultimately, the entire issue may be about money, because requiring a third-party firm to do the work would mean paying them for a service that Apple could provide for free if it follows the court order.

A court order was released in February compelling Apple to provide a backdoor to the security feature of an iPhone that belonged to Syed Farook, the gunman responsible for the shooting in San Bernardino, California in December. The FBI wanted to access the device in hopes of getting more information on the attack.

The FBI said in a statement that they cannot hack their way into the iPhone because if they enter a particular number of wrong passcodes on the lock screen, the iPhone will automatically delete all of its contents. This feature is present in all iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices that are running on iOS 8 and up.

However, Apple has consistently expressed its refusal to follow the court order, stating that it would violate part of its agreement with its consumers. The company filed a legal brief a few weeks back, and a hearing was set last week in which the FBI backed out.

[Photos by Joe Raedle, Stephen Lam/Getty Images]