For the past five weeks, news reports about the clash between Apple and the United States government over unlocking an iPhone used by a gunman in a mass shooting has dominated the airwaves. For weeks, law enforcement has said that the only way to open the iPhone was to secure Apple’s help. Now, the publicity of the fight has led to numerous hackers offering to help the F.B.I crack Apple iPhones.
F.B.I. director James B. Comey Jr. wrote in a letter to The Wall Street Journal that the case has stimulated people worldwide to try to get into the devices. Behind-the-scenes approaches by third parties to law enforcement over potential ways to open the iPhone has given the agency many more options than were previously disclosed. A Justice Department attorney, Tracy Wilkinson, said in a court transcript of a conference call, “There have been a lot of people who have reached out to us during this litigation with proposed alternate methods.”
The case first came on the national scene five weeks ago with the disclosure of a court order demanding that Apple help the federal government unlock the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, a gunman in the San Bernardino, Calif. Mass shooting that occurred last year. In the court filings, the government revealed many of the methods that they had used to try and get to the information on the phone, including exploiting a previously known bug and using tools made by mobile forensics company Cellebrite that could crack a device passcode. None of the methods used worked.
The case, being heard in federal court, was recently halted when the Justice Department received an offer from a third party with a potential solution for cracking the iPhone without wiping the data from the device. While it is unclear whether the effort will be successful, the offer itself was enough to cause a delay in the case while the option is explored. If the agency still cannot open the phone with help from the third party, the court may still be asked to decide whether or not Apple is required to help investigators break into the device.