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Here's how the FBI hacked the San Bernardino iPhone

But they're still not sure if they'll tell Apple the full story

Here's how the FBI hacked the San Bernardino iPhone

The story so far...

  • In December 2015, Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik shot and killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center where Farook worked
  • To investigate a link between Farook and potential terrorists who convinced him to carry out the attack, the FBI sought to crack Farook's iPhone 5c - their only lead
  • The FBI turned to Apple to help, Apple refused to create a 'backdoor', fearing such an exploit would jeopardise their users' security
  • After putting pressure on Apple through the US courts, the FBI dropped the case after it apparently found a way to hack the iPhone 5c

And here's how...

The FBI 'bought' the hack

The Washington Post has word from "people familiar with the matter" that the FBI bought their solution to cracking the iPhone 5c from a 'professional hacker' - someone who actively works to exploit hardware and software issues in order to sell such information to governments or the companies who make the devices themselves.

The hackers had discovered a new flaw

The FBI's problem with hacking into Farook's phone was relatively simple: they just needed the four-digit pin locking it - one for which there are only 10,000 different combinations.

The problem was that with each input of the pin, the iPhone's security system would delay the input for the next attempt - wiping the phone completely after 10 unsuccessful inputs. The FBI needed a way to disable this 'wipe' feature. 

The information purchased from the hackers apparently allowed the FBI to create a piece of hardware that helped them crack the iPhone’s four-digit personal identification number without triggering the wipe function.

Don't worry though

According to FBI Director James B Comey, this solution works only on iPhone 5Cs running the iOS 9 operating system - an exploit that only impacts a "narrow slice" of phones.

Rest assured, your iPhone 5c is almost certainly safe - unless someone who has built a machine similar to the FBI's gets a hold of your phone. But that's really, really unlikely. 

What next?

The US government is now considering whether it will reveal full details of the hack to Apple, a decision probably made by a White House-led group rather than the FBI.

Should Apple be informed of the exploit, you'd expect them to roll out an update for iPhone 5c users, and further improve their security on all other iOS versions. We'll have to wait and see.

[Via: Washington Post]