Details of San Bernadino iPhone Hack Will Remain a Secret

October 2, 2017 - 2 minutes read

Many iPhone app developers admire Apple’s hardline stance against encryption backdoors. It shows that the company is committed to protecting the privacy of consumers, even when such a decision might be unpopular. After the terrorist attack in San Bernandino in December 2015, the FBI wanted Apple’s help to access the iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the shooters. Apple refused, and CEO Tim Cook called the request “an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.” This refusal lead to a court battle and a piece of legislation was introduced that would have forced tech companies to build encryption backdoors (fortunately, this bill fizzled out).

The legal standoff between the FBI and Apple never came to a conclusion because the FBI found a way to access Farook’s phone through less-than-official means. A mysterious third-party vendor hacked the iPhone’s security system, giving the feds the information they needed. Back in September, a few news outlets filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in an attempt to break the story of how the FBI bypassed Apple’s security measures (and for how much money). This information is important to San Francisco iPhone app developers and anybody else who is concerned with privacy. Can the FBI use this method to break into any iPhone? How vulnerable are our phones to this backdoor?

This weekend, a federal judge denied the request, claiming that releasing the information could put the vendor at risk for cyberattacks. After all, the vendor might not have the kind of sophisticated cybersecurity protections the FBI has in place. The judge also denied requests into the cost of the procedure, although it’s already public knowledge that the hack came with a $1 million price tag. Protecting the vendor responsible for the hack arguably keeps this information out of the hands of rival governments. But for many iPhone app developers, it leaves painful questions about our iPhones’ security unanswered.

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