FBI Refuses to Release the Tool Used to Hack Terrorist’s iPhone

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Feds believe that tools can still be used to unlock devices for investigations.

The FBI has refused to disclose information about the tool it used to hack into the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

Initially the FBI asked Apple to create a backdoor so they could access the content of Farook’s iPhone. Apple refused to create the backdoor, stating that once there, it can be used over and over.

Now it’s clear that Apple’s concerns were correct. According to ZDNet, “Justice Dept. officials say that details of a hacking tool used to access a terrorist’s iPhone should not be released because it may still be ‘useful’ to federal investigators.”

That contradicts the statement by FBI director James Comey where he tried to downplay the scope of the tool. Last year Comey said that the tool affects only the iPhone 5c running iOS 9. Despite initial considerations to share the vulnerability it exploited to unlock the iPhone with Apple, FBI later refused to disclose any such information with the company.

The FBI reportedly wasted more than $1 million to crack the iPhone in question, even though they did not extract any valuable information from the device. Last year the FBI was sued by three news organizations to disclose more information about the hack.

On March 13, 2017, David Hardy, section chief of the FBI’s records management division, said in a court filing, “Disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security as it would allow hostile entities to discover the current intelligence gathering methods used, as well as the capabilities and limitations of these methods.”

The FBI’s refusal to share the flaw with Apple and the public is a double-edged sword. It’s not just government agencies exploiting such flaws; there are security organizations whose primary business it is to find such flaws and sell them to criminals and repressive governments. By not disclosing information about the tool, the FBI is apparently putting every iPhone 5c user out there at risk of being hacked.

03/14/2017

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