The FBI’s legal battle with Apple over the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone came to a sudden end when a third-party approached the government agency with a possible way to unlock the iPhone. The planned court case was halted while the government tested the method, and a few days later the announcement was made: they’d unlocked the iPhone sans Apple’s help. Now that word is out, law enforcement across the country is begging the government to unlock their own suspects’ phones.
Recently, Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland and the Conway Police Department submitted a request to the FBI asking for help in unlocking an iPhone and and iPod belonging to a pair of teenagers accused of killing a couple.
Less than a single day after the request was submitted, the FBI agreed to unlock the devices. Hiland confirmed the news in a statement, saying, “We always appreciate their cooperation and willingness to help their local law enforcement partners.”
The two teenagers have been accused of killing a couple last July. The prosecutors in the case have had the duo’s iPhone and iPod since, but have been unable to access them due to security locks on both devices.
The agency’s swift willingness to unlock other Apple devices should surprise no one. Earlier this year, FBI Director James Comey testified in front of Congress, decrying the state of encryption and saying it puts up serious bars to law enforcement. While the agency’s focus is unlocking devices belonging to suspects, Comey made the victim appeal, explaining how one murdered woman’s phone remains inaccessible because it has a lock on it.
Previously, a law enforcement official had indicated the FBI’s newly sourced technology would only work on certain devices, possibly only the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5c. This new agreement with the Arkansas prosecutor tosses that statement under the bus, revealing that — at the very least — it can also be used to unlock an iPod.
Apple has made it clear that it wants to know how the FBI accessed the phone, but the agency has not disclosed its method to the company, the reasons for which are both obvious and expected. One source has cropped up so far claiming the FBI’s technology removes the 10-guess limit, allowing software to try a bunch of possible unlock codes until one works. Whether that’s truly how the software works is unknown.