James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed to CNN that the method used by the law enforcement agency to unlock the iPhone 5c of Syed Farook’s, one of the San Bernardino shooter, works only on a “narrow slice of phones”, which does not include models of the iPhone 5s and after.
This implies the tool relies on the fact that the iPhone 5c and earlier models lack hardware features like the Secure Enclave embedded in Apple’s mobile processors (from the iPhone 5s’s A7 chip and onward) which keeps encrypted sensitive information and stuff like the number of passcode attempts isolated from the rest of the system.
After the FBI said it found a method of getting into the iPhone used in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, the Cupertino company promised it would insist on obtaining the details of the exploit if the case were to move forward. Since the Justice Department officially dropped the case against Apple, the company can’t ask for that information, and Comey said the government is contemplating the pros and cons of looping Apple in on the situation.
“We tell Apple, then they’re going to fix it, then we’re back where we started from,” he said. “We may end up there, we just haven’t decided yet.”
While Comey did not reveal the name of the third party from which the FBI purchased the tool, various reports have confirmed it to be an Israeli company called Cellebrite. The unlocking method used by the company is not yet known, but now that Comey has confirmed that it only works on certain older iPhones, I doubt it is going to be a cause of concern for Apple. Of course, it is also entirely possible that Comey is making this statement to make sure that the FBI does not have to reveal the method of the hack to Apple.