FBI already using its iPhone hack to assist other criminal investigations

Apple iPhone passcode ID
Credit: IDG

Apple's widely publicized battle with the FBI came to an unceremonious end this week when the DOJ filed a motion seeking to vacate a previous court order that would have forced Apple to help the FBI hack into the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

The impetus for the DOJ dropping its legal suit against Apple was that the FBI, with the assistance of a third party, finally managed to access the aforementioned iPhone's data without Apple's assistance. While the identity of the third party has never been confirmed, it's believed that an Israeli software forensics company called Cellebrite provided the FBI with a way in.

And with not even a week having gone by, the FBI has reportedly begun using its recently acquired iPhone hacking solution in other criminal investigations. According to a report from the Associated Press, the FBI recently agreed to access a locked iPhone and iPod where were subject to a warrant as part of a homicide investigation in Little Rock, Arkansas. Officials involved in the case indicated that they have reason to believe that the devices contain evidence of the duo's pre-meditated murder plans.

The FBI agreed Wednesday to help an Arkansas prosecutor unlock an iPhone and iPod belonging to two teenagers accused of killing a couple...

Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said the FBI agreed to the request from his office and the Conway Police Department Wednesday afternoon. A judge on Tuesday agreed to postpone the trial of 18-year-old Hunter Drexler so prosecutors could ask the FBI for help. Drexler's trial was moved from next week to June 27.

Without question, this news raises a myriad of interesting questions.

For starters, it remains unclear if the iPhone in question is the same type as the one used by Syed Farook, which is to say an iPhone 5c running iOS 9. This is a crucial point because if the Arkansas iPhone is a more recent model, it would mean that the solution acquired by the FBI may be more powerful than initially thought. Remember, the Secure Enclave Apple introduced on the iPhone 5s houses a much more robust security scheme than the 2013 model iPhone 5c.

Second, it's interesting that the FBI so vehemently argued that the modified version of iOS they wanted Apple to create would only be used on one specific iPhone. And yet, once the FBI came to possess a viable iPhone hack, it was only a matter of days before requests for iPhone hacking assistance were being made and fulfilled.

Indeed, one of Apple's core concerns is that any hack Apple came up with would not be used just once. Apple stressed time and time again that any solution it came up with would likely be used in other cases and that it was only a matter of time before it fell into the wrong hands.

One of the more interesting aspects of the FBI's new iPhone hack is whether or not Apple will be made aware of the methods being used. If such a scenario plays out, Apple would assuredly patch up the security hole quickly, thus bringing us back to square one of Apple's battle with the FBI.

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