San Bernardino iPhone hack won’t work on newer models, says FBI

Director James Comey says US government in discussions over whether to reveal details of purchased hack that only works on 5C and older devices

Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey has confirmed that the law enforcement agency’s hack on the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5C will not work on newer iPhones.

Talking to students at Ohio’s Kenyon College – Comey’s alma mater - he said: “We have a tool that works on a narrow slice of iPhones. The world has moved onto [iPhone] 6s and this doesn’t work on 6s or on iPhone 5Ss.”

The FBI director confirmed that the hack works on the iPhone 5C and older Apple smartphones, but not newer models with a fingerprint sensor. This is probably because older phones lack the so-called secure enclave, which protects passcodes, security keys and handles the security of the phone’s encryption system.

Comey confirmed that the FBI bought a tool from a third party, negating the need to continue its legal action against Apple. But the FBI has yet to disclose publicly how the hack that unlocked the iPhone 5C works, despite informing senators about it.

Comey said: “We’re having discussions within government about it … if we tell Apple they’re going to fix it and we’re back to where we started.”

Recording of Comey’s Kenyon College address.

The FBI’s hand might be forced if the hack is required in a criminal case, as the information will have to be divulged under the rules of discovery. The hack is also “perishable”, according to Comey, because at any moment Apple could update iOS for the iPhone 5C and render the hack inoperable.

The FBI director also confirmed that the federal agency could help local and state law enforcement by simply unlocking the older iPhones for them, but that evidence gained this way could not be used in court.

Comey wouldn’t comment on who the company or persons the hack was purchased from. He would only say that “their motivations align with ours” and that the FBI and the hack provider were “very good at keeping secrets”.


Samuel Gibbs

The GuardianTramp

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