Home Business IT Security FBI gains access to iPhone data, ends Apple stoush

FBI gains access to iPhone data, ends Apple stoush

The FBI has gained access to the data on an iPhone 5C without the help of Apple, ending a stoush that had threatened to end up in the Supreme Court.

An FBI official told USA Today that a method proposed by an outsider to bypass the locking function of the phone had proved successful.

In a short motion to vacate sent to the US district court for the central district of California, lawyers for the US Justice Department wrote: "Applicant United States of America, by and through its counsel of record, the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, hereby files this status report called for by the Court’s order issued on March 21, 2016.

"The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc. mandated by Court’s Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016.

"Accordingly, the government hereby requests that the Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016 be vacated."

The iPhone in question belongs to the San Bernardino County Department of Health and was being used by Syed Rizwan Farook, an employee. Farook was one of two people involved in killing 14 people in California in December. He had destroyed two other iPhones belonging to him.

The Department, on advice from the FBI, changed the password for the Apple ID on the phone, leading to speculation that the agency had done this to remove one means of knowing what data was on the phone.

The FBI had obtained a court order asking Apple to supply a new version of its mobile operating system, iOS, which did not have certain locking functions, so that the agency could attempt to guess the pass code by using a brute force method. When Apple resisted, the FBI came back with an order compelling the company to fall in line.

The matter was supposed to be heard in Court last Tuesday (March 22) but a day before this the FBI suddenly asked for a continuance until April 5 in order that a method proposed by an outside agency for breaking into the phone could be tested.

This method has apparently been a success. The outside party was the Israeli firm Cellebrite which was paid more than US$15,000 for the job.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.