The FBI and other government agencies might have been too quick to celebrate their victory in getting access to encrypted iPhones. The FBI has formally ended its legal squabble with Apple after it managed to purchase a tool that would unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5c without Apple’s involvement. The agency perhaps also too quickly offered the fruits of that acquisition to authorities similarly hindered by encrypted iPhones. But even FBI directory James Comey himself admits that the tool isn’t a skeleton key and won’t work on newer models.
The whole case ended in a bittersweet victory for Apple. On the one hand, it finally got the government to stop breathing down its neck on the case. On the other hand, the revelation that a tool exists that can successfully hack into an encrypted iPhone, something Apple said would take an inordinate amount of time and sweat, has surely sent the company worrying. That the government now has such a tool in its hands is probably causing some to lose sleep.
In fact, the FBI was almost too happy to share its good fortune with others in the government who also needed to unlock other iPhones and iPads. That’s one less subpeona and court order needed, as they won’t need Apple’s cooperation or even input anymore. Given the events that lead to this, one can almost imagine the FBI’s enthusiastic offers as a jab against Apple.
However, not all iPhones and iPads will benefit from this tool. Comey admits that the tool only works for a small slice of devices in the market. He doesn’t give the specifics, but he does say that it won’t work on newer models, including the iPhone 5s. There is no list available detailing the models involved in those other cases that want Apple’s devices unlocked, but, considering how long those cases take, they might still fall under the category of older models.
Perhaps Apple can breathe just a little bit easier knowing that its most recent devices are same from the tool. Then again, there are still quite a number of those older models in use, which remain vulnerable to possible similar hacking tools.