back to article FBI backs down against Apple: Feds may be able to crack killer's iPhone without iGiant's help

The FBI has come to a sudden and surprising all-stop in its legal war with Apple. Rather than compel the Cupertino giant to help it unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers, the Feds say they may be able to break into the handset without the company's assistance after all. In a filing [PDF] submitted …

  1. ZSn

    precedent

    Or thought that they might lose and didn't want to set a legal precedent until they knew they would win?

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: precedent

      ...Or San Bernadino County found the PostIt Note with the new password that they changed the phone to after it was placed in evidence. :)

      1. David Kelly 2

        Re: precedent

        That can't be. They changed the iCloud password, then for the phone to sync the password has to be entered again from the phone. Can't change the iCloud password back and make the iPhone happy.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: precedent

          "That can't be. They changed the iCloud password, then for the phone to sync the password has to be entered again from the phone. Can't change the iCloud password back and make the iPhone happy."

          Are you sure? If the iCloud account's password is changed back to the original password, the one the phone itself is synced against, how will it be able to tell the difference?

    2. redpawn Silver badge

      Re: precedent

      I suspect this is how the government intended to punish Apple all along if they did not cooperate and the populace was not enthused by the FBI's argument.

      The break in could be a lie even. It does not matter. Apple for the moment has lost the loose loose proposition set up for them. It is a warning that others reputations will also be tarnished if they follow Apple's lead. So in a way it is precedent.

      1. Steve Knox

        Re: precedent

        Apple for the moment has lost the loose loose proposition set up for them.

        1. Learn to spell "lose".

        2. Learn to spell "lose".

        3. Lose-lose is hyphenated.

        4. The public, especially Apple's demographic, will remember that Apple stood up to the FBI, and that the FBI backed down. They're not going to remember or care that the FBI broke into the phone some other way. People who will remember that have already been skeptical of any promise of end-to-end security (from Apple or others). Apple has lost nothing here.

        1. redpawn Silver badge

          Re: precedent

          Great thanks to you the grammar police from a dyslexic without the time to have a second person read all my posts ahead of time. Ride that high horse!

          1. frank ly Silver badge

            @redpawn Re: precedent

            I've worked with two dyslexic people, at separate times in the past. I've looked at your previous posts and they are remarkably good for someone who is 'dyslexic'. Well done for coping with your condition.

          2. vagabondo

            Re: precedent

            @redpawn

            Your lose -> loose dysfunction is not dyslexic, just old-fashioned ignorance.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: precedent

              Your lose -> loose dysfunction is not dyslexic, just old-fashioned ignorance.

              As somebody who learned English as an adult (which arguably gives me a perspective free from an unconscious bias inherent to native speakers), I would assert that this is a consequence of bad language design.

              The prevalence of homophones, the ambuguity of grammar, the plethora of slang words and local dialects ... it almost feels like BASIC from the time gone by.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: precedent

                As somebody who learned English as an adult (which arguably gives me a perspective free from an unconscious bias inherent to native speakers), I would assert that this is a consequence of bad language design.

                I'd agree that the English language is riddled with inconsistencies and unnecessary complication. However, given the mongrel origins of English the notion that any element of "design" was involved is a bit wide of the mark!

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: precedent

                  I'd agree that the English language is riddled with inconsistencies and unnecessary complication. However, given the mongrel origins of English the notion that any element of "design" was involved is a bit wide of the mark!

                  All languages started like this, but many have managed to shed at least some of their no longer necessary baggage. Personally, I find the fact that English is still in pretty much in the same state of disarray it was at the time of Dr. Samuel Johnson to be nothing short of miraculous.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: precedent

                    Personally, I find the fact that English is still in pretty much in the same state of disarray it was at the time of Dr. Samuel Johnson to be nothing short of miraculous.

                    Perhaps if there had remained a single, dominant English-speaking country, in the same way as there has been with French or German, say, then there would have been an opportunity to rationalise the language. However in the case of English, who's going to do the designing? There's no country that accounts for anything like a majority of English speakers, no English-language equivalent of the Académie Française, and 67 sovereign countries using English as an official language.In fact it can be argued that it's this lack of centralised control that's made English such a flexible and adaptable language and facilitated its spread.

                    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                      Re: precedent

                      Perhaps if there had remained a single, dominant English-speaking country, in the same way as there has been with French or German, say, then there would have been an opportunity to rationalise the language.

                      Given the omnishambles that was the German spelling reform and the current storm in France over the dropping of the circumflex, I am more than a little sceptical that this would work.

                      The fact is that most attempts to prescribe language use fail miserably and its absence possibly one of the reasons for English's success.

                    2. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: precedent (Again)

                      Perhaps you're right. Who knows?

                      However in English, LOSE means to mislay or not win. Whereas LOOSE means not tight or free.

                      The problem here is not a matter of syntax or regional variation or even dyslexia, It is more to do with the near-universal use of spell checking software that suffices for most purposes but falls down spectacularly when a specific word is mistakenly used but is nevertheless, still a real word.

                      If the spell-checker doesn't red-line the error, and people being either too lazy or dumb to actually scan what they have written, it gives birth to the immensely irritating and rapidly growing juxtaposition of the LOSE-LOOSE words, to the point where the lesser focused mind (or eye) can no longer discern the difference between the TWO-TOO-TO (Introducing a sister confusion) and so begins using both without understanding WHICH is WITCH. (SORRY) Hobby-Horse is competing with High-Horse here.

                      1. Eddy Ito Silver badge
                        Trollface

                        Re: precedent (Again)

                        I think its grate weir awl halving a discussion on sin tax and gramma. Do pardon my tan gent as it bears little regarding Apple and the FBI.

                  2. nematoad Silver badge
                    Happy

                    Re: precedent

                    As the old saying goes,

                    "If I wanted to get to there I wouldn't start from here."

                    The English language is what it is. Yes it can be confusing, inconsistent and illogical, but it can also be flexible, adaptable and in many cases concise.

                    If you can take a look at the multi-language instruction sheets that come with electrical goods and so on. The English version is usually a lot shorter than the others.

                2. The_Idiot

                  Re: precedent

                  @Credas

                  To quote (I believe) James Nicoll:

                  "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

                  1. Alien8n Silver badge

                    Re: precedent

                    @The_Idiot

                    That looks remarkably like something Sir pTerry would say :)

                3. Fungus Bob Silver badge

                  Re: precedent

                  "given the mongrel origins of English the notion that any element of "design" was involved is a bit wide of the mark!"

                  So wide as to be a loose, loose (as in "ill fitting") proposition....

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: homophones

                except "lose" and "loose" aren't homophones. Neither - if you speak properly - are "their" and "they're".

              3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: precedent

                "The prevalence of homophones" is good reason to take care in selecting the right one.

                1. Tom -1
                  Boffin

                  @Doctor Syntax Re: precedent

                  That doesn't work in speech, so why should we pay any attention to it in writing?

            2. herman Silver badge

              Re: precedent

              As an hoonreud memebr of the ASD (Aiecarmn Dyxeilsc Scetioy), I have to aegre with yuor aaiysnls.

          3. Charlie Clark Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: precedent

            Great thanks to you the grammar police from a dyslexic without the time to have a second person read all my posts ahead of time. Ride that high horse!

            In other words: make the Mexicans spell and make them pay for it

            Any dyslexic worth their salt knows how important it is to take the time and to use the relevant tools to reduce errors. The problem with your incomprehensible gibberish was not that it was poorly spelt but that it was incomprehensible: no combination of lose/loose lose/loose could ever make sense in the context.

            Trying to pass off your ignorance as a medical condition is shameful.

            1. frank ly Silver badge
              Happy

              @Charlie Clark Re: precedent

              I see you're a member of the SS (Syntax Stormtroopers). Much fiercer and more scary than grammar nazis or spelling nazis.

              1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
                Headmaster

                Re: @Charlie Clark precedent

                Well, if the cap fits, I'll happily ware (sic) it. ;-)

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: precedent

            Great thanks to you the grammar police from a dyslexic without the time to have a second person read all my posts ahead of time.

            Doesn't negate the rest of the content. Win-win (sorry).

            BTW, I AM slightly dyslexic, but loose and lose look entirely different to me.

            1. phuzz Silver badge

              Re: precedent

              I'm dyslexic and I often type loose instead of lose, but because it's a mistake I make a lot I usually remember to go back and change it.

              Just remember:

              lose - opposite of win

              loose - your mum

              1. Cari

                @phuzz - Re: precedent

                Wow, that's totally uncalled for.

                Shit, this whole comment chain is uncalled for. If one's first response to another's point or argument is to nitpick their spelling or grammar, one really ought not say anything at all.

                1. phuzz Silver badge
                  Unhappy

                  Re: @phuzz - precedent

                  "Wow, that's totally uncalled for."

                  Oh, you mean the "your mum" joke? Sorry, that was just supposed to be a bit of fun.

          5. Hans 1 Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: precedent

            >Great thanks to you the grammar police from a dyslexic without the time to have a second person read all my posts ahead of time. Ride that high horse!

            Feel sorry for you about grammar, mine is terrible in all 4 languages I master "at a native level", sort of, well, ok, maybe only spoken ... however, I agree with the other comment@rds, that is, Apple have lost nothing.

            At least now, you will remember lose, loose, and lose-lose for the rest of your life ;-) and we all had a good laugh as well, so it is a win-win for all!

          6. Tejekion
            FAIL

            Re: precedent

            @Redpawn. But with a name like yours, you imply that despite your dyslexia, and tiredness you should be able to overcome all that and still deliver a message where you don't "Lose-lose"...Heh Get it?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              lose .v. loose

              STFU and get back on topic or go back to slashdot, you fucking wankers.

              1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

                Re: lose .v. loose

                "STFU and get back on topic or go back to slashdot, you fucking wankers."

                Grammar Nazis is a bit strong; I think grammar council officials is nearer the mark.

                I once had the privilege - because I learned a lot from him - of working with a Cambridge double-first English graduate. He could not spell. For a lot of common words he could tell you their derivation, alternative forms in a number of other languages, and if he stopped to think, variant spellings. But as well as holding down a full time job he knocked out novels under more than one pseudonym, and when he was writing he put down words by their shape, which is how he recognised them.

                If I came across loose-loose as above, I would realise immediately that it meant lose-lose because that's the only form that makes sense. Breaks for brakes is mildly irritating because the meaning is so different, but to a philologist loose and lose are joined at the hip, related to the German world los, Greek λύω, and from the Indo-European root leu- meaning to loosen, divide or separate.

                I make the odd spelling mistake on posts and it rarely gets attention. But that may just be because nobody ever reads them.

                1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

                  Re: lose .v. loose

                  Break / brake is more than mildly irritating when it refers to a machine, since both spellings can be accurate yet have a different meaning.

          7. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: precedent

            DON'T try to defend the indefensible by blaming dyslexia: those of us with reading/learning disfluency learn to compensate for it. The rest of your post shows that you understand, read, and write English, but in this you made a mistake, and instead of taking the correction, try to win some whinging sympathy for yourself and hit back at the corrector. NOT COOL. AC because I hide my disability for professional purposes.

            1. Ben Boyle

              Re: precedent

              Trying to derive a whine-whine from the loose-loose situation...

          8. GarethJ

            Re: precedent

            I too am dyslexic, you need to think of it as a gift rather than pain in the arse. Revel in the fact that your thought processes with language are different to others and that gives you an advantage in being able to solve problems a different way.

            Don't make excuses for it, just get on and write what you want to write, and change the spelling from phonetic to standard english at the end of every paragraph (Well that's how I do it!). :-)

            You watch, someone is going to pick this apart too, go ahead, I don't mind a bit. :-)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: precedent

          @Steve Knox,

          "4. The public, especially Apple's demographic, will remember that Apple stood up to the FBI, and that the FBI backed down. They're not going to remember or care that the FBI broke into the phone some other way. People who will remember that have already been skeptical of any promise of end-to-end security (from Apple or others). Apple has lost nothing here."

          Well, that's not actually happened yet. The court order is still in place, there's still plenty of lawyers burning the midnight oil (at vast expense) over the matter. And, whether we like it or not, the FBI still stand a good chance of winning.

          But your right, withdrawal/continuance doesn't matter. Most people seem to firmly believe that governments (especially the US government) can get into anything they like anytime they want. The FBI withdrawing from that case won't do anything to quell that belief.

          One thing I've never figured out is as follows. Apple have already complied with a warrant to grant access to the iCloud account involved in this case (and found the cupboard bare, but that's not relevant to this question). So why, philosophically speaking, in this age where Apple claim that your iCloud account is as private as one's own phone, are they entirely happy to bust some criminal's online account wide open but not his offline account?

          That feels like a massive moral contradiction. They go to some lengths to get you to use an iCloud account, are then are quite happy to turn that all over to the FBI on receiving a warrant, yet draw a line on giving access to the phone itself when they themselves have already tried very hard to do that. Imagine if they ever made iCloud non-optional; that would make their current stance totally contradictory. That would almost certainly prompt legislative changes, and then Apple do lose, completely.

          Meanwhile over in Android land where there are no sacred data cows at all (Google sees it all whether one likes it or not), one imagines that this situation would never arise. There's not much point in accessing an Android phone directly, Google have probably already got it all in their servers.

          1. chris 17 Bronze badge

            Re: precedent

            @ AC

            1) the fbi/local cops reset the iCloud password to something they knew. So they could gain access.

            2) the phone is owned by the government as is the iCloud account, the government consented to apple retrieving the iCloud data.

            3) as the iCloud password was easily resettable by the authorities, it was trivial to get in for everyone, no need for special compromised IOS.

            1. Pedigree-Pete

              Govt Property.

              What kind of IT Manager issues a Govt owned device where he doesn't know the pw? Sounds like none of this is Apples fault and they, and others should strive to at least give the illusion of privacy. PP

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Govt Property.

                "What kind of IT Manager issues a Govt owned device where he doesn't know the pw?"

                From what I've read, one who bought a device management package and didn't use it.

          2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: precedent

            "And, whether we like it or not, the FBI still stand a good chance of winning."

            Balderdash.

            Let's say that the FBI win the case in the courts and 'Apple' (the company) is forced to create the new ios.

            1. Who goes to jail if they don't do it?

            2. If you answered #1 as being the CEO/CTO etc. then take into consideration that the techies who would do the actual writing could also decide not to do it (they could resign/go on strike or whatever)

            3. If you got this far then perhaps you can explain who actually goes to jail and why.

      2. gnufrontier

        Re: precedent

        It is easier to break into the phone than it is to make sense of what you are saying.

      3. Cari

        @redpawn Re: "punish Apple"

        They're kinda damned if they do, and damned if they don't. Help the FBI, they lose trust from their current customers and potential customers.

        Stand their ground and the FBI seeks help elsewhere. If the FBI and their outside party succeed, that pretty much guarantees that a means of breaking iPhone encryption is out in the wild by second breakfast.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rattling Apples cage !!!!

    More likely it is an attempt to break the encryption on the phone while being able to imply 'in passing' that the iPhone is not as secure as it is made out to be by Apple, as a 3rd party has a working method that apparently Apple do not know.

    If Apple knew the method they would have given it to the FBI quietly or it could be implied that they hid that too from the FBI which would bolster the 'UnAmerican' attacks on Apple.

    The assumption is that it is the NSA but it may not be.

    I am sure that the FBI has relationships with other similar orgs around the globe.

    It could also be help from a hardware 3rd party that can directly access the hardware.

    (Chip Manufacturers/fabs etc)

    They will of course use a test version of the same model iPhone to test the technique and verify that it can work or at least does not destroy the original evidence if it should fail.

    I need to get more Popcorn and keep watching the show for more twists & turns!!! :)

    1. gnufrontier

      Re: Rattling Apples cage !!!!

      Maybe I missed something but I don't think it was ever the case that Apple said the phone could not be hacked into which was the pragmatic basis if not the ideological basic for them not providing something special for the FBI. Apple knew that the FBI didn't need what they were requesting from Apple. If you have the device itself odds are you can get at the data. The data of course may be encrypted but that is a different issue.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Rattling Apples cage !!!!

        Actually, it kinda was concluded that short of physically de-capping chip and applying some deep magic and industrial hardware (or using a zero-day exploit - which by its very nature eludes any meaningful assumptions other than one or more might potentially exist) there was _no way_ to get to the data, unless Apple replaced the OS with a custom backdoored one.

        If it turned out all you need to do is say "Siri, open settings" on the 'emergency call' dialer screen, a bunch of folks would be rather miffed...

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Rattling Apples cage !!!!

          I would guess that the FBI are already into the phone and have found useful evidence on it.

          So, in order to use that evidence without disclosing their encryption-breaking capability they need to get their story straight about how they came by that evidence.

          Disclosing their way in would result in it being closed.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Rattling Apples cage !!!!

          Actually, it kinda was concluded that short of physically de-capping chip and applying some deep magic and industrial hardware (or using a zero-day exploit - which by its very nature eludes any meaningful assumptions other than one or more might potentially exist) there was _no way_ to get to the data, unless Apple replaced the OS with a custom backdoored one.

          Apologies for not having time to look it up (too busy with Brussels, sorry), but if I recall correctly the 5C did have some softness in its protection exactly because not everything was in-chip. However, this softness no longer exists in iPhone 6 and beyond.

    2. Cari

      Re: Rattling Apples cage !!!!

      When I read "outside party", my first thought was more people who make a "not-so above board" living out of breaking into devices, machines, and systems...

      I dont see why the NSA would be helping the FBI. Being able to see what J bloggs says on their phone or PC when no one else can is one of the perks of the job :D

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a win for Apple

    Not really a win for Apple if it turns out the phone can be easily cracked without help from Apple.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Not a win for Apple

      "Easily"? Did anyone say it would be easy?

      My guess is that the "hacker" was once a colleague of a certain Mr Snowden and has access to some ferocious processing power, ad-hoc chip fabbing plant etc.

      Or maybe the iPhone can be hacked with a mashed Bic pen like those super-expensive bike locks were back when bikes were cool.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Not a win for Apple

      This does make one wonder, doesn't it. All the support for Apple and zip for the FBI. Even if they don't crack the phone, just an announcement that it's been cracked should slap Apple hard in their security claims.

      There's an awful lot of game playing going in DC lately what with the election coming up, the Cuba trip (and some surprises from that), Wheeler's little happy dance about net neutrality, and now this. Has the world (or at least the US) gone mad?

      1. billse10

        Re: Not a win for Apple

        " Has the world (or at least the US) gone mad?" - no, it's just stopped pretending it isn't ;-)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not a win for Apple

        Maybe Obama pocketed the iPhone when he went to Cuba and slipped it to a little guy in a Havana back alley during his walkabout. Had it back unlocked in three minutes. No-one noticed.

        It's all smoke and mirrors with the Feds and Apple, It's possible that the FBI can't unlock it but pretend that they can to give Apple a black eye. Or, they could unlock it all along but didn't want Apple (or us) to know that, so they went with the Court Order to hide their ability.

        It's equally likely that Apple quietly slipped them the code but conspired to keep it quiet from us, Or, it was never a secret to begin with and this was all just a bit of theatre to keep us amused - and guessing.

        Which we have done in spades.

        The only thing we know for sure is that we don't know anything for sure.

      3. Fatman Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Has the world (or at least the US) gone mad?

        It WILL if Donald Trump gets elected!!!!!

    3. veti Silver badge

      Re: Not a win for Apple

      At this stage, I think it's a bit late for the Feds to pretend that this was "easy".

      On the other hand, it's not too late for Apple to beef up the security on its next release, such that in future it will be impossible to change the firmware without entering a passcode first...

    4. gnufrontier

      Re: Not a win for Apple

      Easily ? Hardly. Let's call your post another win for those who having read something about the case (maybe) but still do not understand what it is they have read.

    5. Michael Thibault

      Re: Not a win for Apple

      >if it turns out the phone can be easily cracked without help from Apple.

      How will the world ever know? Because the FBI could make known what they found, or not. And they could lie about the results of their sub rosa inquiry, or not. Have a look around the table. Would you believe anything the FBI told you now, or ever?

    6. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Not a win for Apple

      "Not really a win for Apple if it turns out the phone can be easily cracked without help from Apple."

      As they have just released a new small iPhone without the security flaws of the 5c, I imagine cash registers are all fired up with the afterburners ready to go. Be secure - buy the SE!

      1. DougS Silver badge

        No, this is a win for Apple

        Whatever is being done to break into this iPhone 5c isn't simple, or things wouldn't have reached this point. So it can still be claimed to be pretty darn secure, just not perfectly secure against every possible attack - and this 5c is a model from before the secure enclave was added. Whatever is being done to get at the data might not be possible against a 5S/6/6S/SE.

        This is a win because it gives Apple free reign to continue to improve iPhone security without an active court case getting in the way. They can make it impossible for them to hack themselves via a custom iOS update, for instance. So next time the FBI comes calling for something no one can help them with, Apple will be able to say "sorry, we can't help you either".

    7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Not a win for Apple

      "Not really a win for Apple if it turns out the phone can be easily cracked without help from Apple."

      It could well be this zero-day: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/03/21/zero_day_apple_grapple_dredges_imessage_photos_videos_in_ios_9/ in which case it'll be fixed for regular users.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Not a win for Apple

        No, that 0 day is about using a man in the middle attack to decrypt iMessages - if you are able to receive thousands of them. It doesn't help you get access to the phone.

        And iOS 9.3 is already out, so that avenue is closed for anyone who has already updated like I did :)

  4. ashdav

    Smoke and mirrors

    Apple were approached by the FBI (through the courts mind you) to unlock the phone in question.

    Apple refused citing legal this and that, setting a precedent, etc. Other companies could be forced into the same situation and so on.

    In the meantime a "third party" has provided an apparent means to do what the FBI wanted.

    Everybody gets a result.

    FBI get what they wanted.

    Apple comes out squeaky clean because they stood up to the man.

    Call me a cynic but.......

    You can't blame Apple. It's just the way the system works.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Smoke and mirrors

      I have agree that your scenario could be very plausible with the way all things US tend to work.

      Apple did raise the 'Public ask' as a problematic way to ask.

      This would give everyone a win and the FBI a direct line to Apple in the future.

      I am cynical enough to believe this could be true. :)

    2. Grikath Silver badge

      Re: Smoke and mirrors

      Or... the FBI brass, being tried-and-tested political creatures, are well aware of the attention span of the US Media and Public General, which happens to be akin to the lifespan of your average mayfly, and chose this tactic to ensure any continuation would at best reach page 5 news when the trials recommence.

      Also smoke and mirrors, because you can't use *that* as an excuse to hold up a court case, but whether this "third party solution" works or not, they'll have their month.. in election season, with 150% chance any different SJW issue will have the Twats in Arms when the trials recommence. Even more time given that picking up the case starts out dry as dust, and the next Blip will be the verdict pro or con Apple, with option to appeal.

      It'll be almost summer before anything definite happens again...

      If they would continue now, win or lose, the FBI would suffer tremendous political, social, and operational damage. This smacks more of damage control than any real solution to cracking that phone.

      If they were sure of a method that *worked* , they'd be dropping the case and crowing victory.

  5. G.Y.

    taxi

    remonds me of a NJ (EWR) taxi guy

    (at end of trip) me: is your Visa machine working?

    he: do you have cash?

    me: yes

    he: it's broken

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: taxi

      Then you reply that the cash you have he can't readily handle. I was about to say the smallest you have is a hundred, but a Jersey cabbie would probably be able to handle it, so perhaps say you have foreign cash. Now you force the cabbie to declare he lied and that his card reader works or force him to waste time (and lose perhaps another fare) driving you back.

  6. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Entirely predictable...

    If this is shown to be true, then I told you so...

    Me: "Far too many people stop and stare at the key length, do the 2^N math, and are dazzled by the billions of years. That's why they don't crack codes that way. It would be extraordinary that the iPhone 5C just happens to represent the first uncrackable encryption system. So many have claimed that, all have failed so far."

    1. Thought About IT

      Re: Entirely predictable...

      Indeed, Edward Snowden said weeks ago that the NSA didn't need any help from Apple.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Entirely predictable...

        >Edward Snowden said weeks ago that the NSA didn't need any help from Apple.

        Apple have released a few iterations of hardware and firmware since Snowdon was in the game.

        This Apple/FBI spat actually goes back 18 months when Apple released iOS 8 and closed a loophole the FBI had been routinely using. Apple even sent the FBI a beta of iOS 8.

        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-03-20/the-behind-the-scenes-fight-between-apple-and-the-fbi

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Entirely predictable...

      Me: "Far too many people stop and stare at the key length, do the 2^N math, and are dazzled by the billions of years. That's why they don't crack codes that way. It would be extraordinary that the iPhone 5C just happens to represent the first uncrackable encryption system. So many have claimed that, all have failed so far."

      At the moment you're only right in Schoedinger terms. We don't know either way and frankly, I doubt we ever will.

  7. Goldee1985

    iPhone encryption hacked by Mcafee???

    Did Mcafee finally crack Apple encryption?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35611763

    1. Jimbo in Thailand

      Re: iPhone encryption hacked by Mcafee???

      Yep, it's amazing that the FBI didn't take McAfee up on his offer to crack the San Bernardino iPhone FOR FREE way back on Feb 18th. It's also shocking that McAfee's offer didn't go viral in the media, but considering we're in a world of US presstitute news outlets, I guess it's not too surprising.

      By ignoring McAfee, and others, we at least now know that the FBI did indeed want to set a legal precedent forcing an American company to comply with an unfair unconstitutional demand. Gotta admit I suddenly have a ton of respect for Tim Cook for standing his ground against Obama's dark forces. There may be some hope yet, if other CEOs will follow Tim Cook's lead.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: iPhone encryption hacked by Mcafee???

        Not Obama's Dark Forces. Unfortunately they're The Dark Forces That Tolerate Obama. The tail wags the dog these days.

  8. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    FBI = Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys?

    I am rather cynical about feral claims they have an alternate method. If the method exists it is likely due to a security coding error and was probably known to a friendly spookhaus. The best way to have handled this is quietly through the FISA court with a court order (nod, nod, wink, wink) ordering the spookhaus to get in. To me, ferals have abjectly surrendered while mouthing off about an unprovable claim. Later they can claim there was nothing on the phone of value after they allegedly hack it.

    I know the title is insulting to real Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys, they actually showed more spirit and competence than the ferals.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FBI = Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys?

      Are you really sure that it is: Nod - Nod? It could have so easily been: Nood - Nood.

      SORRY I'll get my anon coat and get back to my FBI cubicle.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not great result for Apple

    Will Apple now sue the FBI for disclosure on their new method?

  10. Brent Beach

    Is this going to be one of those Staring at Goats solutions so favoured by top military brass?

    You do know the Yanks seriously considered converting ice bergs into air craft carriers during WWII?

    Anything is possible.

    1. Diodelogic

      Iceberg aircraft carriers

      "You do know the Yanks seriously considered converting ice bergs into air craft carriers during WWII?"

      You do know that the idea originated with the British? Project Habbakuk?

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Iceberg aircraft carriers

        It is also worth noting that Pykrete (which they planned to use - basically wood fibre frozen in ice) is a very different animal than vanilla ice (no, not the rapper) regarding both melting point and structural strength, which makes the idea a lot less ludicrous than it actually sounds (okay, still pretty far out)...

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Iceberg aircraft carriers

          A boat made of ice is self-repairing. It works.

          However, espionage by psychic flying on the astral planes or whatever is pure hokum.

        2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Iceberg aircraft carriers - Pycrete

          It is also claimed that Lord Mountbatten's enthusiastic demonstration of Pykrete nearly killed a general with a ricochet and caused the whole thing to be hastily mothballed.

          Mountbatten had an excellent record of support for scientists and engineers, and make a lot of people in the Navy happy with his destroyer improvements. But Pykrete was just a little too far.

  11. Charles 9 Silver badge

    I wonder if the FBI backing down had to do with this little discovery. Since the exploit is publicly disclosed, the FBI can't deny it, and since it affects all iPhones to date (as the patch has not yet been released), the FBI also can't deny being able to use the exploit to get into the phone's data. So they're kinda caught in a blatant lie, meaning it's now extremely unlikely the court will grant the motion, seeing as necessity (meaning a lack of alternatives) is generally required to get such a motion granted.

  12. Medixstiff

    Best thing I've read about the whole argument was a discussion with a previous counter terrorism official that obviously has his head screwed on properly:

    CLARKE: Apple helps law enforcement organizations in the United States and Apple helps law enforcement organizations overseas when they have a duly authorized request for material that Apple has. Apple doesn't have this material. If it were in the Cloud, if the FBI and the San Bernardino County hadn't made a mistake on the way they treated this phone, this information would be in the iCloud and Apple would allow access to that because Apple has that information.

    GREENE: What do you know about the debate within the Obama administration? It's been reported that there really is a fierce debate over how to handle this.

    CLARKE: Well, I don't think it's a fierce debate. I think the Justice Department and the FBI are on their own here. You know, the secretary of defense has said how important encryption is when asked about this case. The National Security Agency director and three past National Security Agency directors, a former CIA director, a former Homeland Security secretary have all said that they're much more sympathetic with Apple in this case. You really have to understand that the FBI director is exaggerating the need for this and is trying to build it up as an emotional case, organizing the families of the victims and all of that. And it's Jim Comey and the attorney general is letting him get away with it.

    GREENE: So if you were still inside the government right now as a counterterrorism official, could you have seen yourself being more sympathetic with the FBI in doing everything for you that it can to crack this case?

    CLARKE: No, David. If I were in the job now, I would have simply told the FBI to call Fort Meade, the headquarters of the National Security Agency, and NSA would have solved this problem for them. They're not as interested in solving the problem as they are in getting a legal precedent.

    GREENE: Wow, that sounds like quite a charge. You're suggesting they could have just gone to the NSA to crack this iPhone but they're presenting this case because they want to set a precedent to be able to do it in the future?

    CLARKE: Every expert I know believes that NSA could crack this phone. They want the precedent that the government can compel a computer device manufacturer to allow the government in.

  13. gnufrontier

    Phone in hand.

    People do not seem to understand that their is a huge difference between cracking all phones and cracking a single phone that one has in hand in a lab. What is so hard to understand about this ?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Phone in hand.

      Well.. if the FBI walks away with the phone and the new firmware, they own all of that particular model. That's the issue. If the new firmware was installed and Apple kept the phone, the FBI took the data, and Apple then installed the old firmware, there's not a problem. It's giving them the phone with the modified firmware.

    2. heenow

      Re: Phone in hand.

      You're just dead wrong, notwithstanding your grammar challenge. "There" is no difference between cracking this one phone and cracking all of them. The phone is in the FBI's lab, not Apple's, and "their" lab is where they want Apple to send the new firmware. That puts it into the FBI's hands forever to use in any way they want on any phone they want.

      1. Matthew 17

        Re: Phone in hand.

        There was also the concern that if they were forced to break into this phone, they would then be expected to use their tool to break into other iDevices as the precedent had been set and the software written.

        I suspect that if the G-Men want to tarnish Apple over this they simply have to release a story that they broke into the phone (they're therefore not as secure as Apple claim) and that they found an evil plot involving baddies on the phone that wasn't backed up to the iCloud, for some reason.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What is so hard to understand about this ?

      How you keep the tools, developed explicitly for this purpose, from falling into the hands of ISIS.

      Given how many people work at the FBI and at Apple, it's pretty much a given one of them is either corruptible or a terrorist sympathiser.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: What is so hard to understand about this ?

        "How you keep the tools, developed explicitly for this purpose, from falling into the hands of ISIS."

        I am far less worried about ISIS than I am about either, say, the Adams gang involved in the Hatton Garden theft, or our local council officials.

    4. Francis Vaughan

      Re: Phone in hand.

      Indeed. There is a lot of ignorance about the technical details here.

      There is only one critical secret piece of information that matters. The FBI could create the needed firmware themselves. There is nothing special about it. What they can't do is sign it. Only Apple has that ability. The FBI were demanding that Apple do the slog work in writing the special version of the OS (which was going to include code that ensured it only ran on that one phone.) No matter who wrote the code, the only thing that really mattered was forcing Apple into signing it. Once signed the code is immutable, hence if it contains code to target only one phone by its unique ID, it can't be modified to run on any other phone without being signed again.

      All of the questions of exploits, hacking, who writes what, or the "weaponising of the code" come down to one thing. Apple must sign it. There were rumours that the FBI would consider escalating the case to demand Apple hand over the signing key. Now THAT would be bad. Apple fought the orders to write the special OS as once written it becomes too easy for new demands for that same code to be re-signed on demand for new cases.

      Letting the signing key out of Apple would be a disaster waiting to happen. One would assume that it is kept in a set of appropriate secure key devices, and is actually not known to anyone.

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Phone in hand.

      There's also a big difference, in principle, between cracking one phone in hand and cracking a few dozen other also in hand together with an unlimited number not yet in hand. In practical terms there isn't. But principles matter.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does the FBI solution method involve ...

    Water Boarding, Coercion or other forms of Torture ?

    ... or simply having the case transferred to the UK ?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ... despite insisting repeatedly that Apple were the only ones on the planet who could help its investigation, the Feds may use someone else's unlock method instead ...

    This can only weaken the Feds case. Apple's legal eagles must be doing cartwheels of joy.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      I'm not sure ANY legal eagles anywhere are particularly interested in the outcome of the case they represent - somebody will win, somebody will lose, and the eagles on both sides will get paid, exceedingly handsomely. Assuming your attorney cares as much about winning your case as you do is a big, big mistake.

  16. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    This isn't over yet - so keep tuned! This is something like a time-out, and probably an involuntary one. My guess is that someone strongly suggested to the FBI to dial it back a bit and keep a low(er) profile. But I can't see Jim Comey forfeiting the match, so to speak. He has put quile a lot of his personal clout behind this and has to prevent losing too much face over this.

    As to the "third party" involved - my money is on the NSA because a) it's their job to do stuff like that (and for all we know they are very good at it) and b) it ties in neatly with my 'the feds were reined in' theory - "FFS Jim, keep it down and get on the phone and make that call to Fort Meade already!"

    However, for all we know, the mysterious "third party" just as well might not exist. Or it might be PLA Unit 61398. Keep tuned, folks - more after a quick word from our sponsor!

  17. chris 17 Bronze badge

    How annoying would it be if, as stupid as it sounds, it turned out they did actually just copy all the data and crack the pin code in a VM?

    What a howler that would be!!

    However they do it, I hope there is no meaning full data on that phone as that would just put fuel in FBI's stance to compel tech companies to incorporate government access to locked devices.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >How annoying would it be if, as stupid as it sounds, it turned out they did actually just copy all the data and crack the pin code in a VM?

      That wouldn't work. You would also need the device's hidden ID, so get your acid and diamond tools ready.

    2. phuzz Silver badge
      Holmes

      See, copying the data to a VM, or de-lidding the chips, that all sounds complex.

      Much cheaper to just have some low ranking FBI agent (perhaps one who's screwed something up recently) sitting there trying PIN after PIN, and rebooting to reset the failed count.

      Maybe three disgraced agents so you could run around the clock, and you could probably test, what, four numbers per minute? They could have tested about half a million combinations by now.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    if they crack it

    Apple should try to find out and introduce countermeasures... However, I think it'll be unlikely they would. They have staged a show of resistance, won the fight "on behalf of milions of our loyal customers" - no need to keep pissing into the FBI garden for no PR benefit. Shame though.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: if they crack it

      They don't have to. Countermeasures have already been introduced in the 5S onwards. It's just that this particular model, a 5C, predates them.

  19. Anne-Lise Pasch

    Krod Mondoon

    Really needs a second series.

  20. msknight Silver badge

    Apple has lost.

    If the Feds don't need Apple, then what does that due to customer faith?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The mysterious third party

    Let's assume the mysterious third party is the NSA and with their huge budget and smart people have discovered a series of zero day exploits for any OS.

    Should this agency immediately report the exploits to the software developers so consumers can be protected? Of course.

    But this isn't what's happening. To keep the upper hand and to use the exploit themselves, they expose the citizens (which pays the agencies wages) to cyber criminals, other hostile governments, and even their own governments attemps to trample on the right for privacy.

    We have arrived at a point again where technology has progressed faster than legislation and government considers this a threat. This threat has to be contained at any cost and terrorism is a welcome justification for taking liberties away. Which in this Case means either breaking - or - not fixing technology.

    When governments start working against their own people (actively or passively) it means the terrorists are winning.

  22. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Translation: the FBI know they are going to lose, so they are trying to scare people away from Apple and onto more crackable platforms.

  23. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    I would like to give El Reg the award ..

    .. for probably the deliberately worst photo editing job this century :)

  24. John Sturdy
    Black Helicopters

    Am I being too cynical here?

    My guess is that the FBI decided that there was probably nothing of interest on the phone (after all, the user destroyed their other phones but not this one), but they didn't want to risk proving this. If Apple gave them what they were asking for, the decrypted data would then show incontrovertibly that this was the case. If a third party makes a less definitive attempt at it (e.g.a bungled one), the FBI's PR can spin it to their advantage.

  25. PaulAb

    Intensive police wot cracked it

    They found an App on the Istore

  26. Jediben
    Trollface

    How to make a third party and keep the fanbois happy

    Apple: Hi Corporate Drone 1.

    Corporate Drone 1: Hi.

    Apple: Hey Corporate Drone 1, take a look at this - it's a means to unlock the Apple 5s phone which we don't want people to know about, but the FBI would really like us to give to them.

    Corporate Drone 1: Aw gee, I think I know wha...

    AN UNMARKED CAR APPEARS.

    Apple: Say Corporate Drone 1, here's a big cheque for your services. Please get in this car.

    Corporate Drone 1: Please don't fire me, I real.....

    Apple: You're fired.

    Driver: Next stop, Washington DC!

    Former Corporate Drone: Good morning Mr FBI.

    Mr FBI: Good morning Third Party.

    Apple: Curse that Third Party, we did ALL we could...

    <FIN>

  27. Ed 11

    Call me a cynic... I wonder if the FBI had suspicions the judge assigned to the case may come down on the side of Apple and decided that wasn't a precedent they wanted setting.

    1. Bob Camp

      I don't think it's a precedent-setting case. There's already been one other case where the FBI has been denied access, yet the judge in this case granted it. So apparently it's on a case-by-case basis.

      The important thing to remember is that your phone is totally hackable, and Apple is kidding themselves by proclaiming that it isn't. I also doubt the FBI will share the exploit they used with Apple.

      Now that we can put all that behind us, Apple can resume pushing iWallet to its iDiots.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      " wonder if the FBI had suspicions the judge assigned to the case may come down on the side of Apple and decided that wasn't a precedent they wanted setting."

      This is my suspicion. There's an old saying 'don't start a fight you can't win'. They thought that they could do this by taking it to a magistrate, assuring her it was all straightforward and getting a warrant without letting Apple be heard. What with Apple contesting it, with heavy-weight amicus briefs and a few influential voices saying that other parts of the govt favour encryption they're now thinking this is a fight they can't win. Maybe the recent zero-day is what they're using to back down gracefully. Maybe Zdziarski's right (I'd have thought this would have been something NSA would have looked at way back).

      I'm sure what they really want is a precedent to get backdoors put into whatever they want and if this looks as if there's any possibility that this could go against them they'll wait for another chance somewhere else.

  28. Mahhn

    So they finally decided to use the dead guys finger, give the FBI a cookie.

  29. This post has been deleted by its author

  30. JB77

    ITS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT TIME AND MONEY

    TIME AND MONEY

    Big Brother (FBI / NSA / CIA) is alive and well, but a little disappointed today.

    All those lies Big Brother has been spinning hasn't worked out. However, the current campaign to steal mass data has been mildly effective. U.S. Congressional clowns are considering new laws to spy on the public - worldwide.

    You ask, "Why don’t they just continue the way the have in the past!"

    I say: "Because of the time and costs involved."

    Here's a question for you:

    What do you think the cost is to 'crack' an encrypted cellphone (hardware) or ANY data message? Remember, each instance will have a unique personal encryption key and will need to be done individually."

    $10,000 ?

    $1,246,307.08 ?

    More?

    Less?

    1) Come up with a guess.

    2) Multiple your guess by every encrypted data packet known and unknown to mankind created in the past year.

    3) Print estimated yearly cost here: __________________________________________________

    See the point?

    The FBI / NSA / CIA does NOT have the money. Their combined budgets are not even close. Have I mentioned how much time (money), research (money), hardware (money), lawsuits (lots of money), etc. (money), is involved?

    No? Better triple that number above.

    So, what's a body to do? Backdoor (s)?

    Big Brother: "Were working on bringing the cost down."

    You and me: "How?"

    "Bend over, please…"

    JB

  31. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    See foot! Shoot foot! Shoot!

    So Apple have gone from "We didn't want anyone to see we could break iPhone security with our proprietary knowledge in case they thought our phones were insecure" to "Actually, you don't need to be Apple to crack an iPhone. World+Dog can do it."

    They'd have had rather less security egg on their faces if they'd cracked the phone.

  32. Bob Dole (tm)
    Trollface

    "An external forensics company, with hardware capabilities, is likely copying the NAND storage off the [iPhone's chipset] and frequently recopying it back to the device in order to brute force the PIN ... This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as it’s a fairly straightforward technique."

    This is pretty much exactly what I said a month ago and was downvoted into oblivion with some AC saying I needed to post something sensible.

    As anyone knows - when you have physical access to any device you can get the data.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "This is pretty much exactly what I said a month ago and was downvoted into oblivion with some AC saying I needed to post something sensible."

      There's also been a good of crap about "do you know how many attempts you need to to brute-force an AES key" when, in fact it was all about brute-forcing a four digit pin.

      But if this is the explanation I think the" external forensics company" has a TLA.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I know I am probably thinking incorrectly, but is that terrorist actually so stupid as to:

    1. keep using the Iphone after he saw news articles on how the FBI is trying to crack into his phone.

    2. To actually back up what he did do on Apple's cloud.

    Donno

    1. Cari

      He's a bit too dead to be still using his phone or reading the news :)

  34. zen1

    yawn

    I think it's rather hypocritical of Cook to stand there and proclaim a huge victory for privacy advocates, when Apple have pretty much bent over and grabbed their ankles for the government of China and god knows who else.

    Furthermore, I find it absolutely laughable for Cook to stand there with a straight face and state he hated to be at odds with "Apple's government", or something to that effect. Apple is a multinational corporation that really doesn't report to just one government. Sure, it was founded in the US, but it has long sold its soul to SE Asia under the false pretense of "shareholder equity".

    Finally, I want to make it crystal clear that I am pro privacy and find it pitiful that the FBI (et. al) feels compelled to take the easy route and go to the manufacturer, rather than figure it out for themselves. FFS, as many people who work for DARPA, the NSA, FBI, CIA, DHS, or any branch of the military, there has to be at least one or two people that might have the skills to at least give it a try. Or, they could just fecking outsource, like they have been doing for years.

    I think this whole affair is pitiful and I don't know which is worse, Apple or the FBI!

    Flame away.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Win Win

    So, Apple "wins" as their customers are secure in the fantasy that their data is "secure", augmenting their Marketing position.

    The FBI (etal) win as well, as they have gained the capability to crack phones while "the public" believes otherwise.

    Of course they will need physical possession of the phone, but they needed that in any case.

  36. mark jacobs
    Coat

    The brutes!

    "An external forensics company, with hardware capabilities, is likely copying the NAND storage off the [iPhone's chipset] and frequently recopying it back to the device in order to brute force the PIN..."

    That's why the FBI have asked to postpone until April - to give them time to brute force the PIN.

    Compare this (fiasco) with that in Paris, where the attackers just used unencrypted comms through unencrypted phones bought for use on the day and disposed of immediately after. They even hoiked phones off their victims and used them for some of their calls.

    Which goes to prove that breaking encryption has nothing to do with stopping terrorism.

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