San Bernardino iPhone hack probably won't work on newer models, says FBI director

iPhone 5C

FBI Director James Comey has opened up ever so slightly regarding the process involved in cracking into the San Bernardino iPhone.

He stated that the bureau purchased a “tool” from a private party that could access the data of the iPhone 5C in question, something that Apple staunchly refused to assist with.

Following the successful breach, the FBI dropped its court order against the Cupertino company, saying that it “no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc”.

So, that’s that. Right? Not quite.

During a speech at Kenyon College, which you can watch here starting at the 52-minute mark, Comey dug into some previously undisclosed details.

First off, this tool’s effectiveness is limited to the iPhone 5C, but has only been used to crack inside the one that belonged to the San Bernardino attacker. Comey stated “It’s a bit of a technological corner case, because the world has moved on to sixes. This doesn’t work on sixes, doesn’t work on a 5S. So we have a tool that works on a narrow slice of phones.”

He is, of course, referring to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S.

Comey then continued with a bit of humor saying that “I’m talking to college kids. You probably all have fours, right? I feel sorry for you.”

Is your phone actually safe?

Comey coming clean that the tool has only been proven to work on this one iPhone 5C should be a sigh of relief for many. But why exactly won’t the tool work on Apple’s newer smartphones? The bureau’s director doesn’t offer an explanation, but says that he “...can never be completely confident, but I am pretty confident about that.”

Many others have posited that it’s the Secure Enclave tech standing in its way, which was introduced starting with the iPhone 5S’ A7 chip and present in today’s iPhone 6S.

In a thorough explanation offered up by Ars Technica, the Secure Enclave feature is said to give Apple’s recent phones (from the 5S and up) more protection by way of keeping a non-erasable tally of failed attempts at getting in. Older devices, which apparently includes the 5C, start fresh after each reboot, giving hackers, or very forgetful owners, more chances at achieving access.

Just as the FBI wanted to know how to crack into an iPhone, Apple now wants to know how the FBI did it. But will it ever happen? Comey essentially delivers a shrug and wink, theorizing “that’s an interesting conversation, because if we tell Apple, they’re going to fix it and then we’re back to where we started from. [...] We may end up there, but we just haven’t decided yet.”

Source: CNN Money

Via: The Verge, 9to5Mac

Cameron Faulkner

Cameron is a writer at The Verge, focused on reviews, deals coverage, and news. He wrote for magazines and websites such as The Verge, TechRadar, Practical Photoshop, Polygon, Eater and Al Bawaba.