FBI hacks San Bernardino at­tacker's iPhone, drops Ap­ple suit

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

The FBI has un­locked the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino ter­ror at­tack­ers, of­fi­cials said Mon­day, end­ing a heated le­gal stand­off with Ap­ple that had pit­ted US au­thor­i­ties against Sil­i­con Val­ley.

Ap­ple, backed by a broad coali­tion of tech­nol­ogy giants like Google and Face­book, was fiercely op­posed to as­sist­ing the US gov­ern­ment in un­lock­ing the iPhone on grounds it would have wide-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions on dig­i­tal se­cu­rity and pri­vacy.

A key court hear­ing sched­uled ear­lier this month to hear ar­gu­ments from both sides in the sen­si­tive case was abruptly can­celled af­ter the FBI said it no longer needed Ap­ple's help be­cause it had found an out­side party to un­lock the phone.

Syed Fa­rook and his wife Tash­feen Ma­lik killed 14 peo­ple in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia on De­cem­ber 2 be­fore dy­ing in a fire­fight with police. Two other phones linked to the pair were found de­stroyed af­ter the at­tack.

"Our de­ci­sion to con­clude the lit­i­ga­tion was based solely on the fact that, with the re­cent as­sis­tance of a third party, we are now able to un­lock that iPhone with­out com­pro­mis­ing any in­for­ma­tion on the phone," US at­tor­ney Eileen Decker said in a state­ment.

In a court fil­ing ask­ing that the case be dis­missed, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said the US gov­ern­ment had "suc­cess­fully ac­cessed the data stored on Fa­rook's iPhone and there­fore no longer re­quires as­sis­tance from Ap­ple Inc."

It was un­clear who helped the FBI ac­cess the phone and what was stored on the de­vice.

But news re­ports have said the FBI may have sought as­sis­tance from an Is­raeli foren­sics com­pany.

In a state­ment late Mon­day the FBI de­clined to say who that party was, or what tech­ni­cal steps were taken to un­lock the phone.

"The full ex­ploita­tion of the phone and fol­low-up in­ves­tiga­tive steps are con­tin­u­ing. My law en­force­ment part­ners and I made a com­mit­ment to the vic­tims of the 12/2 at­tack in San Bernardino and to the Amer­i­can peo­ple that no stone would be left un­turned in this case," said Laura Eimiller, spokes­woman for the FBI's Los An­ge­les field of­fice.

The goal of the probe is to de­ter­mine if the Cal­i­for­nia at­tack­ers worked with oth­ers, were tar­get­ing oth­ers and were sup­ported by oth­ers, the FBI said.

"While we con­tinue to ex­plore the con­tents of the iPhone and other ev­i­dence, these ques­tions may not be fully re­solved, but I am sat­is­fied that we have ac­cess to more an­swers than we did be­fore and that the in­ves­tiga­tive process is mov­ing for­ward," Eimiller said.

Tech com­pa­nies, se­cu­rity ex­perts and civil rights ad­vo­cates had vowed to fight the gov­ern­ment, say­ing it would set a prece­dent to com­pel com­pa­nies to build back­doors into their prod­ucts.

The gov­ern­ment had fired back, in­sist­ing that Ap­ple was not above the law and that its re­quest for tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance con­cerned only Fa­rook's work phone from the San Bernardino health depart­ment.

Evan Greer, cam­paign di­rec­tor of Fight for the Fu­ture, a non-profit that sup­ports Ap­ple, said Mon­day's an­nounce­ment was proof the gov­ern­ment had an al­ter­na­tive mo­tive in the case. "The FBI's cred­i­bil­ity just hit a new low," he said in a state­ment. "They re­peat­edly lied to the court and the pub­lic in pur­suit of a dan­ger­ous prece­dent that would have made all of us less safe.

"For­tu­nately, In­ter­net users mo­bi­lized quickly and pow­er­fully to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the dan­gers of back­doors, and to­gether we forced the gov­ern­ment to back down."

FBI di­rec­tor James Comey said his agency only de­cided to back down in the court case af­ter it found a third party that could crack the phone. "You are sim­ply wrong to as­sert that the FBI and the Jus­tice Depart­ment lied about our abil­ity to ac­cess the San Bernardino killer's phone," Comey said in an open let­ter.

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