The FBI doesn't need Apple to unlock Pensacola gunman's phones

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What you need to know

  • A report suggests that the FBI does not need Apple's help to unlock two iPhones used by the Pensacola naval base shooter.
  • The phones in question are an iPhone 5 and an iPhone 7.
  • Some cybersecurity experts and hackers are suggesting that the FBI could unlock them without Apple's help.

A report suggests that the FBI does not need Apple's help to unlock two iPhones belonging to the Pensacola naval base shooter.

According to Bloomberg:

The FBI is pressing Apple Inc. to help it break into a terrorist's iPhones, but the government can hack into the devices without the technology giant, according to experts in cybersecurity and digital forensics.Investigators can exploit a range of security vulnerabilities -- available directly or through providers such as Cellebrite and Grayshift -- to break into the phones, the security experts said.

According to the report, because the iPhones in question, an iPhone 5 and an iPhone 7, are so old, it may well be that hackers could access these devices without the need for Apple to create a backdoor. iPhone hacker Will Strafach said:

"A 5 and a 7? You can absolutely get into that... I wouldn't call it child's play, but it's not super difficult."

It seems that depending on the software the two phones are running, it might actually be quite easy to open them up:

Neil Broom, who works with law enforcement agencies to unlock devices, warned that the software version running on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 could make it more difficult to break into the handsets. But it would still be possible."If the particular phones were at a particular iOS version, it might be as easy as an hour and boom, they are in. But they could be at an iOS version that doesn't have a vulnerability," he said.

The report also notes other options the FBI has including the Checkm8 vulnerability, and security firms like Cellebrite, who would "bend over backward" to help the government in the hope of securing contracts. Cellebrite is the company that helped the FBI access the iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooter in 2016.

With these revelations in mind, could it be that the FBI, in making these requests to Apple, is not solely concerned with the two iPhones in its possession and the case at hand, but rather it is looking to apply pressure to Apple to get the backdoor to iOS it so desperately wants? From these reports at least, it sounds like the FBI would have everything it needs to access these phones and push forward its investigation. The news comes hot on the heels of President Trump lending his own support to the FBI's cause, saying that Apple should indeed unlock the phones of criminals.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9