In Apple vs. FBI, Third Party May Hold Key

On Monday, March 21, 2016 prosecutors in the case between the FBI and Apple Inc. requested and won a delay in a hearing scheduled for March 22, 2016 in federal court regarding the encryption of the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.

The U.S. attorney announced on March 21, 2016 that an “outside party,” unnamed, had shown a “possible method” to crack the encryption on Farook’s phone, while a Justice Department spokeswoman said, “We must first test this method to ensure it doesn’t destroy the data on the phone, but we remain cautiously optimistic.”  The Justice Department told the court it would provide it an update on the situation on April 5.

The third party approached the FBI on Sunday, March 20, 2016 to demonstrate the method to be used to obtain the information the FBI has been seeking in its quest to learn more about the terror attack in San Bernardino and to learn whether other individuals had been involved in the planning of that attack or if there were plans for further attacks.

Apple iPhone at center of Apple vs. FBI

If a third party successfully solves the encryption problem on San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, the legal struggle between Apple and the FBI may be over.

Prior to the delay request, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice had insisted there were no alternatives to breaking through the encryption on Farook’s iPhone 5c to obtain the information stored there for the period between October 2015 through December 2015, when the San Bernardino attacks occurred.

Apple had provided assistance to the federal law enforcement agency in obtaining information from Farook’s phone up to the period of interest when a password change, initiated by the FBI, made it impossible to proceed without the tech giant creating new code to develop a backdoor to its own hardware. On February 16, 2016, the FBI obtained a court order for Apple to do just that, making the struggle between the two entities public.

Some experts in the tech community questioned the validity of the FBI’s assertion that only Apple could provide the assistance it needed to obtain the encrypted information on Farook’s iPhone, including Matt Blaze, a professor and computer security expert at the University of Pennsylvania, who said, “From a purely technical perspective, one of the most fragile parts of the government’s case is the claim that Apple’s help is required to unlock the phone. Many in the technical community have been skeptical that this is true, especially given the government’s considerable resources,” upon learning of the government’s request for a delay of hearing in the matter.

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