After almost two months of debate, wars of words, and court battles between the FBI and Apple (supported by the whole tech community), it was a bit anti-climactic when FBI suddenly announced their success in unlocking the iPhone 5C recovered from the terrorist involved in San Bernardino shootings. However, it was a mystery how FBI managed to do so without any assistance from Apple.
Now according to a report in Washington Post, FBI paid a one-time flat fee to professional “grey hat” hackers to crack open the said iPhone.
These hackers had discovered a previously unknown security flaw in older iPhones, known as Zero-Day Exploit. Using this information, they developed a piece of hardware which allowed them to access the iPhone using the four digit PIN.
Most importantly, they were able to do so without triggering the security system which wipes off phone data irreversibly after a specified number of unsuccessful login attempts.
Now, that does raise some questions over Apple’s supposedly foolproof security measures of its devices, particularly of new iPhones in the market.
However, FBI Director James B. Comey said that the method they used could work only on selected old devices, specifically iPhone 5C generation which was released two years ago. He said that it would not even work on iPhone 5S, let alone on present iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S models.
The world has moved on to [iPhone] 6’s. This doesn’t work in 6S, this doesn’t work in a 5S. So we have a tool that works on a narrow slice of phones. … I can never be completely confident, but I’m pretty confident about that.
As far as identity of the group which helped FBI, and more importantly their motives with that level of skill is concerned , Comey said that they were “someone outside the government” and their motivation aligned with that of FBI’s.