The FBI may have officially taken the necessary steps to drop its case against Apple, but the ongoing encryption battle is far from actually being over and put to bed. The United States Department of Justice jumped through all of the necessary hoops last week in order to prevent its ongoing encryption case against Apple from going to court. The decision was taken internally after the FBI found another method of unlocking the iPhone 5c used in the San Bernardino shootings, and therefore no longer required Apple’s intervention. Now, several security experts have gone on record as stating that the method used by FBI for accessing the device is unlikely to stay secret for long.
A number of security experts have joined several senior Apple engineers to talk about the existence of the secret exploit that has allowed the U.S. government to gain access to the iPhone without Apple’s help. All of those discussing the matter believe that the FBI will only be able to keep this method secret for so long before the exploit actually slips into the public domain and becomes common knowledge inside security circles. Of course, that would then provide Apple with some insight into the vulnerabilities that exist within its iPhone encryption, allowing the company to patch the exploit(s) for the benefit of its consumers.
If the FBI were to use this particular method simply to gain access to the iPhone 5c in question then there would be a higher potential for the method to remain unknown. However, we already know that the inevitable has happened with the FBI agreeing to assist law enforcement agencies in Arkansas by providing access to an iPhone and an iPod touch under investigation in an ongoing homicide case.
Jonathan Zdziarski, who operates as an independent forensics expert, believes that this level of assistance between agencies makes it inevitable to keep the exploit(s) secret:
The FBI would need to resign itself to the fact that an exploit would only be viable for a few months, if released to other departments. It would be a temporary Vegas jackpot that would quickly get squandered on the case backlog.
The reality of the situation is that the FBI simply will not keep this exploit to itself. The government’s stance in the Apple case was that Cupertino company should be assisting law enforcement agencies in matters of national security and helping them to retrieve data from devices that have been used in ongoing criminal cases. It would be highly hypocritical of the FBI to have the means to do just that, but decline to share that information with other agencies, or even other countries. When and if Apple patches up this exploit with a future iOS update or iPhone, the DoJ and FBI could may well be back to requesting assistance from Apple in future cases, taking us back to square one.
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