By Denise Kim
After the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced on March 28 that it had successfully accessed the iPhone used by one of the gunmen in the San Bernardino terrorist shooting without Apple’s help, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is now officially dropping its case against Apple. Earlier, the DOJ’s motion for continuance halted the ongoing feud between Apple v. FBI. The DOJ filed the motion on March 21, 2016, one day before the court decided whether Apple would be forced to hack into its own system. In its memorandum of points and authorities, the DOJ claimed that on March 20, 2016, an “outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone.” After successfully unlocking the iPhone, the government asked the federal judge to vacate the disputed order.
In a statement, Apple said the case “should have never been brought” and reiterated its objection that the FBI’s initial demand would have “set a dangerous precedent.”
Little is known about how the government succeeded in unlocking the iPhone, although the DOJ released a statement claiming that “with the recent assistance of a third party, we are not able to unlock that iPhone without compromising information on the phone.” Some experts believe that the FBI utilized a NAND mirroring technique—which copies the flash memory of the device to restore it after a lockscreen wipe. But whatever the method is, the fact that an alternative method exists surprises many after the months-long feud in which the FBI insisted that there was no other way to open the iPhone. Meanwhile, Apple claimed that it would have to create a new backdoor into the iOS system.
Apple’s position has always advocated on the side of privacy. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, stated on numerous occasions that the company has a responsibility to help customers protect their data and that forcing Apple to hack into Farook’s iPhone would set a dangerous precedent. “Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy,” Apple said. “Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk.”
“We will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated,” Apple’s statement read. In light of recent reported problems with iOS 9.3; and perhaps in its efforts to follow through on its vow to increase security of Apple products, Apple has worked on a new encryption, and the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) recently granted Apple a new encryption patent designed to protect more customer data.
Labeled as a multi-block cryptographic operation, this new encryption method applies a cryptographic operation to the selected set of blocks. Although highly technical in nature, the new multi-block cryptographic operation will enable a more efficient process as multiple blocks work together as opposed to prior operations that operated on single block schemes.
As of now, it is unclear when, how, or even if Apple will implement this new encryption patent. The DOJ has stated that it will “continue to explore every lead, and seek any appropriate legal process, to ensure our investigation collects all of the evidence related to this terrorist attack.” There are many, like Alex Abdo of the ACLU, that believe that the case is far from settled and this is “just a delay of an inevitable fight” about whether the government can force a company like Apple to undermine the security of its products to facilitate an investigation. The unfortunate reality is that technology often moves too fast for policymakers.
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