FBI hacks attacker’s iPhone, drops suit

Wednesday March 30 2016

FBI Director James Comey speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on March 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. PHOTO | MANDEL NGAN | AFP

FBI Director James Comey speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on March 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. PHOTO | MANDEL NGAN | AFP  

More by this Author


The FBI has unlocked the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terror attackers, officials said on Tuesday, ending a heated legal standoff with Apple that had pitted US authorities against Silicon Valley.

Apple, backed by a broad coalition of technology giants like Google and Facebook, was fiercely opposed to assisting the US government in unlocking the iPhone on grounds it would have wide-reaching implications on digital security and privacy.

A key court hearing scheduled earlier this month to hear arguments from both sides in the sensitive case was abruptly cancelled after the FBI said it no longer needed Apple’s help because it had found an outside party to unlock the phone.

Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California on December 2 before dying in a fire fight with police. Two other phones linked to the pair were found destroyed after the attack.

“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,” US attorney Eileen Decker said in a statement.


In a court filing asking that the case be dismissed, federal prosecutors said the US government had “successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires assistance from Apple Inc.”

It was unclear who helped the FBI access the phone and what was stored on the device.

But news reports have said the FBI may have sought assistance from an Israeli forensics company.

In a statement late Monday, the FBI declined to say who that party was, or what technical steps were taken to unlock the phone.

“The full exploitation of the phone and follow-up investigative steps are continuing. My law enforcement partners and I made a commitment to the victims of the 12/2 attack in San Bernardino and to the American people that no stone would be left unturned in this case,” said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.

The goal of the probe is to determine if the California attackers worked with others, were targeting others and were supported by others, the FBI said.

“While we continue to explore the contents of the iPhone and other evidence, these questions may not be fully resolved, but I am satisfied that we have access to more answers than we did before and that the investigative process is moving forward,” Bowdich said.

Apple said the FBI case should never have been brought before the courts and that the company would continue to increase the security of its products.