Just a day before a scheduled heavyweight court hearing with Apple, the FBI has asked the courts to vacate the hearing while it works with a third party to hack the infamous iPhone 5c without Apple’s help.
The FBI says it may have found a way to access the data on the San Bernardino shooter’s locked iPhone without requiring Apple to build a weakened ‘GovtOS’ to bypass the password entry limitations. No details on how this will be achieved have been made public, and likewise the FBI haven’t revealed who will be helping them. It’s suspected that hackers from the jailbreak community may have offered a solution. What this means is a two-week hiatus before the FBI has to decide whether to continue with the hearing or retract its request to Apple.
Apple’s lawyers have already noted that the move essentially moots one of the FBI’s main arguments, which is that only Apple is capable of helping to bypass the security on the iPhone. FBI officials have previously stated that they had explored every avenue already, but it seems as though this is not the case.
If this unknown third party has really found an alternative way to break into the iPhone 5c, Apple will want to know about it so it can further improve security in future versions of iOS. However, it’s unlikely the FBI would be willing to share that information. If the case does end up back in courts, Apple has every right to demand to know it, but if the FBI drop the case entirely there’s no legal grounds for it to reveal how the iPhone was hacked (if the plan is successful).
The timing of the announcement – like Apple’s own Special Event presentation – seems a little suspect. Is everybody just playing games at this point? It’s possible the FBI feel the case is slipping away from them, and would rather remove themselves from the fight than lose the case. Apple has said that hacking this one iPhone would “set a dangerous legal precedent,” and it could be the case that the FBI feel the same way about the repercussions of losing.
We should find out more on April 5. Until then, it looks like this ongoing encryption story will be taking a breather.