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Apple wants the FBI to reveal how it hacked the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone


Apple Inc. refused to give the FBI software the agency desperately wanted. Now Apple is the one that needs the FBI’s assistance.

The FBI announced Monday that it managed to unlock an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters without the help of Apple. And the agency has shown no interest in telling Apple how it skirted the phone’s security features, leaving the tech giant guessing about a vulnerability that could compromise millions of devices.

“One way or another, Apple needs to figure out the details,” said Justin Olsson, product counsel at security software maker AVG Technologies. “The responsible thing for the government to do is privately disclose the vulnerability to Apple so they can continue hardening security on their devices.”

But that’s not how it’s playing out so far. The situation illuminates a process that usually takes place in secret: Governments regularly develop or purchase hacking techniques for law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts, and put them to use without telling affected companies.

Now that the FBI has dropped its case against Apple, there’s a new ethical dilemma: Should tech companies be made aware of flaws in their products, or should law enforcement be able to deploy those bugs as crime-fighting tools?

It’s unclear whether the FBI’s hacking technique will work on other versions of the iPhone, though a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said its applications were limited.

Some news outlets citing anonymous sources have identified Israeli police technology maker Cellebrite as the undisclosed third party helping the government, but neither the company nor the FBI has confirmed those reports.

A source who is unauthorized to discuss the case told The Times the FBI was provided with the ability to incorrectly guess more than 10 passwords without permanently rendering the phone’s data inaccessible. That allowed the agency to use software to run through potential pass codes until it landed on the correct one. It is not clear what info, if any, was gleaned from the phone.

Attorneys for Apple are researching legal tactics to compel the government to turn over the specifics, but the company had no update on its progress Tuesday.

The FBI could argue that the most crucial information is part of a nondisclosure agreement, solely in the


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