FBI's iPhone cracking software to remain a secret

Judge slaps down FOI request seeking to reveal details of San Bernardino iPhone hack

The FBI can keep secret the details of a hacking tool used to break into an iPhone last year, a court has ruled.

This is the final word in a long-running series of contentious legal battles over an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the terrorists who launched an attack on an office party in San Bernardino in December 2015, in which 14 people were killed.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The owner of the phone, Syed Farook, died alongside his wife in a shootout with police following the incident. The FBI then tried to access the phone, believing it to contain valuable information related to the case, but in the process managed to lock the device, meaning Apple engineers who were then called out were unable to do anything.

A court order was issued in an attempt to force Apple to develop a tool to unlock the phone, but the company refused to comply, arguing it would be set a dangerous precedent with regard to the security services' ability to override US citizens' right to privacy.

However, in early 2016 the FBI dropped the case, having found a third-party company that could crack into the iPhone without Apple's help, for the bargain price of $1.3 million (900,000).

Advertisement - Article continues below

In September that year, three media organisations the Associated Press, USA Today and Vice Media sued the law-enforcement agency under the US Freedom of Information Act to try and force it to reveal the name of the company that succeeded in cracking the device and how much exactly it paid for the service.

Advertisement - Article continues below

After a year of legal wrangling, US district court judge Tanya Chutkan has finally ruled the information is not covered by FOI requests, citing national security and the threat of cyber attacks against the unnamed third party, IBT reports.

"It is logical and plausible that the vendor may be less capable than the FBI of protecting its proprietary information in the face of a cyber attack," Chutkan said in her ruling. "The FBI's conclusion that releasing the name of the vendor to the general public could put the vendor's systems, and thereby crucial information about the technology, at risk of incursion is a reasonable one."

She added: "Releasing the purchase price would designate a finite value for the technology and help adversaries determine whether the FBI can broadly utilise the technology to access their encrypted devices.

"Since the release of this information might 'reduce the effectiveness of a critical classified source and method', it is reasonable to expect that disclosure could endanger national security."

Featured Resources

Preparing for long-term remote working after COVID-19

Learn how to safely and securely enable your remote workforce

Download now

Cloud vs on-premise storage: What’s right for you?

Key considerations driving document storage decisions for businesses

Download now

Staying ahead of the game in the world of data

Create successful marketing campaigns by understanding your customers better

Download now

Transforming productivity

Solutions that facilitate work at full speed

Download now



University of California gets fleeced by hackers for $1.14 million

30 Jun 2020
cyber security

Australia announces $1.35 billion investment in cyber security

30 Jun 2020
cloud security

CSA and ISSA form cyber security partnership

30 Jun 2020
Policy & legislation

Senators propose a bill aimed at ending warrant-proof encryption

24 Jun 2020

Most Popular

Google Android

Over two dozen Android apps found stealing user data

7 Jul 2020

How to find RAM speed, size and type

24 Jun 2020

The road to recovery

30 Jun 2020