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FBI Unlocks San Bernardino Phone All By Themselves

FBI Unlocks San Bernardino Phone All By Themselves

Maybe the government should’ve tried a little harder from the get go

Would ya look at that… The federal government didn’t need to start a privacy flame war with one of the countries largest electronic purveyors after all.

Monday, the LA Times reported the FBI was able to unlock one of the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhones without the assistance of Apple:

Federal officials said Monday that they have unlocked the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters and are dropping a request in front of a federal judge that sought to force Apple to help with that effort.

Though the move avoids what could have been a pitched court battle weighing data privacy against the needs of the counter-terrorism community, the FBI’s ability to stage an end run around Apple’s security measures could raise additional civil liberties issues.

The move comes a week after officials announced that a “third party” had come forward to help investigators unlock the phone without help from the computer giant. It’s unclear what the FBI found on the phone or exactly what method it used to defeat or bypass the device’s security settings.

“Our decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone without compromising any information on the phone,” prosecutors said in a statement.

“We sought an order compelling Apple to help unlock the phone to fulfill a solemn commitment to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting – that we will not rest until we have fully pursued every investigative lead related to the vicious attack,” the statement said.

The decision may impact local law enforcement entities around the country:

Monday’s announcement could also have far-reaching consequences for local law enforcement. Police nationwide have long contended that data encryption allowed criminals to store information on smartphones to avoid detection. Thousands of the devices that have been seized during investigations in recent years currently sit idle in police evidence lockers. The Los Angeles Police Department has nearly 300 such devices, the department has said.

Though it’s unclear how the FBI gained access to Farook’s phone, the possibility that the agency found a way around Apple’s security measures could allow police access to similarly encrypted data in a much wider range of investigations

Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye


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FBI was lying from the beginning. All they wanted was a precedent. When that started looking bad, they pulled out rather than get a negative precedent.

I am 100% sure that the information that they took sooooo long to get is REALLY important and will help them determine if there were others. LOL

Lazy, incompetent police work requires the destruction of our civil liberties, we should NEVER let laziness and incompetence destroy or freedom.

ugottabekiddinme | March 28, 2016 at 8:28 pm

What took so long? Probably had to find the interpreter who could translate for the mysterious third party who showed up with the technical methodology to break the encryption without damaging the data. You know, the original technical information was probably in Chinese. Or maybe Ukrainian, or Russian. Gulp… Farsi? Inquiring minds want to know.

Heck, Apple wants to know! Unless . . woo-woo cloak and dagger: maybe a secret side deal with a current or ex-Apple person who “volunteered” for the good of the country? And we may never know.

    alaskabob in reply to ugottabekiddinme. | March 28, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Last mention I read was of an Israeli firm being hired to break into the iPhone.

      Henry Hawkins in reply to alaskabob. | March 28, 2016 at 9:01 pm


      forksdad in reply to alaskabob. | March 28, 2016 at 9:04 pm

      My understanding is that most of our domestic intelligence gathering is run through another country to avoid our laws.

      It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Israel was one of those countries that handled our cellphone info. They have the savvy for it and close ties to the American Deep State.

    They took so long because they don’t give a spit about the terrorism angle. After all, who was hurt? No FIB agents were harmed in the making of this attack. They took so long, because they were attempting to carry out a power grab. That is what is important to the FIB, and has been since J Edgar was a parking meter attendant.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t “unlocking” in this situation mean merely accessing the data? (The phone was programmed to destroy its data after X number of unsuccessful attempts to access it.) If the data itself is encrypted, that’s another ball of wax.

Maybe Apple unlocked access to phone and all this they did it on there own is just a cover story so Apple can look like they didn’t cooperate.

Henry Hawkins | March 28, 2016 at 9:02 pm

This is what I call an iceberg story, meaning that 99% of what actually occurred remains unseen.

    It was highly predictable that they would claim to have gotten into it, and then declare it “secret,” hard to lose that game! Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Perhaps they should turn over the HRC email case (and Lerner’s) to the same people, then we get to the bottom of those.

2nd Ammendment Mother | March 28, 2016 at 9:13 pm

This issue touched very close to home for me. My broad job description was PR, but what I actually did involved media research, documentation and analytics. A byproduct of that field is that I end up having access to a great deal of news stories documenting events that become the subject of criminal and civil litigation. It was just as easy to produce research for the legal community as for major ad clients and over the years it was a very lucrative sideline, especially for defense attorneys who understood the value of my resources.

However, at least once a month, I had to call my attorney to deal with one attorney (most frequently district and federal prosecutors) or another who decided they could save a few bucks and subpoena my business to work for them free of charge. Some of these projects can cover several years of archives and weeks of work to organize and assemble (although the digital age cut that time down significantly). Every judge ruled exactly the same way. My work was available to the public, just like copy paper at Office Depot, and the prosecutors were required to compensate me for it. After 20 years, we were nearly to the point that most of the judges knew the situation and had dealt with it so many times they would accept my attorneys motion to quash without making him charge me to go to court.

So…. needless to say…. I have a bit of an ax to grind anytime, anyone in the legal sphere tries to use a judge and the threat of the cost of litigation as an intimidation to obtain free services from a private business. I was fortunate that my attorney was willing to give me a flat rate and frequently worked for services on trade, but for a small 2 person company, I was still out $10K a year on legal fees. $10K was a small price to pay to prevent the government from taking hundreds of thousands a year in free labor from me. I never ended up earning that much on my sideline, but the one sure thing was that if one attorney was ever successful, I would have had a line of process servers around the block taking what they wanted for free.

    I had a similar incident with a civil attorney who tried to subpoena me for a free engineering opinion. We had discussed his client’s case and I had offered a couple of lines of argument. Then he served me. When I showed up in court, he asked me, “What is your opinion of suchandsuch?”

    “I have no opinion.”

    “Why don’t you have an opinion?”

    “Because I have not been retained to form one.” There is more to forming a professional opinion than just pulling a number or a court citation out of your arse.

    We went back and forth a few times before the judge said, “Give it up counselor.”

    The irritating part was that I was on his client’s side. I may be cheap, but I ain’t free.

I am perfectly fine with me spending more money for a telephone because there is an encryption arms race between telephone manufacturers and the government.

As for the case it always seemed flimsy. Apple can’t turn over the backed up data in the cloud because somebody in the government changed the password? Well, that means somebody in the government had the password the whole time.

A simple order to get government agencies to cooperate would have solved the issue the whole time, assuming the case wasn’t total bullshit designed to get a favorable court opinion the whole time.

    Mannie in reply to rotten. | March 29, 2016 at 8:29 am

    The scenatio as I recall it, is that some Deputy mope guessed the password, then reset it, and subsequently forgot the new password. We’ll never know, but government stupidity satisfies Occam’s Razor very well.

Sammy Finkelman | March 29, 2016 at 12:55 am

Apple can’t turn over the backed up data in the cloud because somebody in the government changed the password?

No, the data in the cloud from that phone (Syed Rizwan Farook’s work phone, owned by the county of San Bernardino) was turned over.

The problem was that Syed Farook had turned off automatic backups around October 19. Now it is said that if they hadn’t changed the password to the cloud, they could have gotten the phone to back itself up again. * But they did change the password, to get the data in the cloud, and after that, the phone would not do any more backups until their passwords were synched or something like that. Of course, they didn’t know till they looked that data backup had been turned off.

What was on the phone? Syed Farook probably stopped backups as a routine precaution, on the theory that anything could be a lead. There probably wasn’t much there related to the plot except things related to the planning, and useful to police mostly before the crime. Anything really secret would have been on the smashed phones.

* And only then changed the password.

It’s almost certain that the iPhone storage is on separate chips. The phone could have been modified to allow another computer to read the storage on the iPhone.

holdingmynose | March 29, 2016 at 5:56 am

I wonder if John McAfee was the unnamed individual who helped the FBI? He was previously reported as criticizing the FBI for not seeking the help of “professional” hackers, who he said could break into the iPhone in 1/2 hour.

OK. I admit freely and openly that I don’t know nuttin bout nuttin. But I do have an instinct and an opinion:

The outside expert (possibly the Israeli company) was not successful in cracking Apple’s operating system security, but was actually working to crack the application purchased by San Bernardino County that would allow a locked phone to be unlocked.

The County claims the app was not installed, but who knows?


i call BS on the whole story…

the terrorists destroyed their personal phones prior to the attack. that they left this one untouched tells you there was nothing they considered important on it.

this was all about the Feds being able to trample on civil liberties, nothing more.