The maneuver to unlock Apple’s iPhone may not be disclosed by the government because the company that helped the FBI unlock the iPhone of the Syed Farook, one of the two shooters in the San Bernardino mass shooting, has sole legal ownership of the method. Apple is hoping the government will disclose the maneuver so it can fix the flaw before it is discovered and exploited by criminals.
Government may not disclose the flaw to Apple
Citing Obama administration sources, Reuters says the White House has a procedure for reviewing technology security flaws and then deciding which ones to be made public. But this procedure is not set up to manage or disclose flaws discovered and owned by private companies. The secretive process was created to settle government debates about what is to be done with a given technology flaw instead of leaving it to agencies like the National Security Agency, which would probably prefer to keep the vulnerabilities secret to use them further.
In 2013 when questions were raised regarding the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, White House cyber-security policy coordinator Michael Daniel, said it was “reinvigorated,” but the information in respect to the departments involved remain undisclosed. Daniel has written on how dangerous a flaw could be for society if outsiders discover and exploit it.
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The FBI may not know all details
The technology used to unlock the phone was supplied by a non-U.S. company, the sources told Reuters, but they refused to identify the company. According to the sources, the FBI, without cooperation from that company, would not be able to submit the method to the Vulnerabilities Equities Process even if it wanted to.
Also government sources and Rob Knake, who managed the White House process before leaving last year, told Reuters that probably the FBI does not know the details of the technique itself but rather just knows enough to determine that it worked.
“There is no way the government could force companies to share the methods that they are trying to sell, or any way to stop government agencies from buying from those companies,” he said.
A national debate about encryption, privacy and security has been reignited by the efforts of the government to force Apple to help it to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. It has already been weeks since the Justice Department said it broke into the phone without Apple’s help, but the debate is still raging.
In a separate New York case, the Justice Department is trying to force Apple to help retrieve data from a drug dealer’s iPhone 5s.