Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

FBI Barely Tried to Hack San Bernardino iPhone Before Going to Court With Apple

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, reporting for Vice in 2018:

The FBI argued that it had no technical way to unlock the phone or hack into it without Apple’s help. Apple argued that helping the FBI would’ve put all iPhone users in danger because it would’ve required the company to weaken the security of all iPhones. The battle ended with a whimper when an unknown “third party” gave the FBI a way to hack in and the FBI abandoned its legal request.

As it turned out, the FBI’s own hackers didn’t start working with vendors to find a way to hack into Farook’s iPhone until “the eve” of the FBI’s initial court filing demanding Apple’s assistant on February 16, 2016. Moreover, two different teams within the FBI’s Operational Technology Division (OTD), a department tasked with giving technological assistance to investigations, didn’t communicate with each other to find a solution until late in the investigation, according to the OIG report.

The tech team initially helping with the case was the Cryptologic and Electronics Analysis Unit (CEAU). It was only after a meeting on February 11 that another hacking team within the FBI, the Remote Operations Unit or ROU, started looking into it and started contacting contractors and vendors asking for help.

It beggars belief that today’s FBI is struggling to breach an iPhone 7 Plus and an iPhone 5, the latter being a model of smartphone that is eight years old and is stuck on iOS 10. That’s especially suspicious given that investigators in another case were recently able to unlock an iPhone 11 Pro. What is it about the much older phones in this case that are proving so iron-clad against the United States’ elite digital forensics teams? Are they even trying? Or does the Department of Justice just want to fight?