The unidentified group that assisted the FBI in unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone has sole legal ownership of the exploit, making it highly unlikely to be shared with Apple, U.S. administration sources have revealed.
According to a report published by Reuters yesterday, the White House routinely reviews technology security flaws as part of its Vulnerabilities Equities Process to decide which ones should be made public, but it does not reveal flaws discovered or owned by private businesses without their explicit cooperation.
Initial rumors had suggested the FBI received assistance from Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite to hack the phone, but more recent information suggests the group involved consisted of “professional hackers” who sell flaws to governments, black market groups, or companies that create surveillance tools.
The FBI itself likely does not know the details of the technique, only simply that it worked, according to government sources and Rob Knake, who managed the Vulnerabilities Equities Process before leaving the White House last year.
The news is being seen as a blow to Apple, which has sought information regarding the exploit used by the FBI to unlock suspected terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone in the hope of fixing it before it can be used by criminals.
In a separate report published by CBS News yesterday, a law enforcement source revealed that the data successfully extracted from Farook’s iPhone has yet to reveal any information relevant to the FBI investigation. However, the source stressed that the bureau continues to analyze the extracted data in the hope that something of significance will yet be discovered.
After a very public legal battle in which the FBI obtained a court order demanding Apple help the government unlock the iPhone used by Farook, the Justice Department dropped the lawsuit after announcing it had found an alternate method to gain access the phone’s data.
FBI director James Comey has since said the exploit only works on a “narrow slice of phones”, which does not include models of the iPhone 5s and after.
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