So after months of preparing for a courtroom showdown the FBI says "Nevermind, for now anyway"?
Yesterday, it came to light that the FBI may no longer need Apple to unlock the San Bernardino iPhone. The two sides were due to meet in court again today, but the hearing has been delayed.
The news that the FBI may not need Apple’s help saw the courts quickly grant a two-week pause while the government tries out a new approach. It claims that it’s been presented with alternative means of unlocking the phone by a third party, which could be used to break into the now infamous iPhone. It’s not clear who has provided the FBI with the alternative, or what it entails.
As to the technology side, some guesswork here. I like the Apple on the edge of Tomorrow death/rebirth approach myself:
What’s stopping the FBI from trying to guess each and every PIN combination until it gets the right one is the fact that the iPhone might be set to erase the data after the tenth wrong PIN input. Edward Snowden already suggested that the FBI has a memory mirroring technique at its disposal that could be used to beat the system.
What happens here is that the iPhone is again dismantled and the NAND memory module is removed so that it can be copied. With the help of software, the FBI can then try each and every PIN combination available. If the phone erases itself after the tenth attempt, the FBI would just restart the process. After all, it still has the original memory that can be copied over and over.
“This technique is kind of like cheating at Super Mario Bros. with a save-game, allowing you to play the same level over and over after you keep dying,” security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski wrote on his blog – you should read the entire post to better understand how this technique works.
But as to timing, well, hmm. I have long said that Apple ought to be protesting publicly while cooperating privately, to protect their brand while getting this resolved. I am not getting off that horse now. My guess? Apple brought in a consultant, made a few "suggestions" as to how to crack this, and sent the cut-out on to the FBI.
No adverse court ruling, no awkwardness about ignoring court orders in the event they lose, no publicity about publicly cooperating with the FBI. OK, there is some negative press about seemingly secure iphones being hackable, but they can claim the next generation solves that, so hurry out to the Apple Store and upgrade.
Or, the FBI got lucky. Maybe time will tell.