The FBI has agreed to unlock an iPhone 6 and an iPad related to a murder case in Arkansas, marking a new chapter in its battle with Apple over encryption.
Although the FBI recently withdrew its case against Apple related to the San Bernardino terror attack, it seems the agency is not done with the tech company yet. The FBI had previously pressed for a court order that would force Apple to create a a backdoor in its iOS operating system that would enable agents to bypass the encryption on an iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the shooters at San Bernardino.
FBI to assist in Arkansas murder trial by unlocking Apple devices
Now that the FBI has withdrawn that particular case, the battle over encryption is far from over. The agency has agreed to help in the Arkansas case, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
As reported by the Arkansas 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney Cody Hiland, the Little Rock FBI field office will unlock devices owned by the suspects in the murder Robert and Patricia Cogdell.
Hiland says that the FBI agreed to assist in the case just a few hours after his office submitted a request.
“The iPod had just come into our possession a couple of weeks ago,” Hiland said Wednesday. “Obviously when we heard that [the FBI] had been able to crack that phone we wanted to at least ask and see if they wanted to help.”
FBI unlikely to reveal Apple vulnerability during trial
The accused are Hunter Drexler, 18 years old, and Justin Staton, 15 years old. Prosecutors have taken Drexler’s iPhone and Staton’s iPod as part of their investigation as it is thought that they might contain valuable information related to the killings. Four suspects have been charged with the murder of Robert and Patricia Cogdell outside their home in Little Rock in July.
It is not clear whether the same method will be used on the devices as the FBI used on Farook’s iPhone. The LA Times reports that the FBI office did not immediately return their calls, and a spokesman in Washington refused to comment.
An unnamed official believes that a different method would be used given the fact that the trial would force the method to be revealed. If Apple were told about the vulnerability it would then be able to patch it up.
Arkansas device more complicated challenge for FBI?
According to Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group in San Francisco, the Arkansas iPhone will present some of the same access issues as Farook’s phone, even though it is a newer model.
The iPhone 6 involved in the Arkansas case would be running iOS 8 or later, an operating system that encrypts all of the data on the phone when it is locked. Apple has claimed that it cannot get past that level of encryption.
If an incorrect password is entered, the phone would trigger a delay. As a result FBI software that bombards the phone with endless password combinations would have to wait longer and longer between each attempt.
It seems that we have not heard the last of the privacy versus security debate which has rocked the tech establishment. Apple engineers are presumably working overtime in order to find the weakness that allowed the FBI to access Farook’s phone.