It’s over! The big tech news story of the year so far has finally come to an end, after the FBI successfully hacked into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5c with the help of a third party forensics company. This means Apple’s assistance is no longer required, and the court case will not continue.
The US Justice Department has confirmed that it managed to unlock the device without expertise from Apple. Israeli firm Cellebrite is rumored to be the company which assisted with the data extraction. It’s not yet clear if the information on the iPhone is of any use to the FBI’s investigation, and nobody has yet revealed the method used to access the data. Apple will no doubt wish to find out so it can plug any known security holes in the next version of iOS.
This whole debacle, which ultimately could have all been solved quietly by the FBI without involving Apple, the courts or the media at all, is something of a double-edged PR sword for Apple. On the one hand, publicly defending its customers’ privacy and refusing to weaken its software bodes well for those that care about encryption, privacy and surveillance. On the other hand, the fact that the iPhone was able to be hacked without Apple’s help can’t be a good sign for the quality of its security.
So the battle is over without a winner, since the FBI withdrew its court request, perhaps in fear of losing the legal battle. In a statement, Apple said “this case should never have been brought.” That said, this surely isn’t the last we’ve seen of the privacy war. The government will still want backdoor access, and Apple will continue to resist weakening its security. We’ll just have to wait and see how long it takes before this bubbles to the surface again.