Monday, March 28, 2016

FBI drops case against Apple as it no longer needs their help

After months of work, the FBI finally has a way into the San Bernardino iPhone. In a court filing today, prosecutors told the court the new method for breaking into the phone is sound, and Apple's assistance is no longer required. "The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone," the filing reads, "and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple." The filing provides no further details on the nature of the new method. The result effectively finishes the court fight that has consumed Apple since February is now officially over.

The Department of Justice first announced the existence of the new attack on March 21st, less than 24 hours before the first hearing on the order was scheduled to begin. According to prosecutors, the method was first demonstrated to law enforcement on the 20th, and was sufficiently plausible that the bureau could no longer continue its case, which was premised on the claim that only Apple was capable of unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone. The government was scheduled to report on the effectiveness of the exploit on April 5th, but the FBI's researchers appear to have finished early.

The result is an abrupt end to this chapter of the FBI's fight against encryption. We still don't know the exact nature of the government's exploit or how many different iPhones it could be used to unlock, but it's unlikely to grant the broad powers that the proposed GovtOS would have. That raises the possibility of similar court challenges in the future or, more likely, congressional action on encryption of the kind proposed by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr.

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