The hack used by the FBI to gain access to the iPhone 5c owned by one of the San Bernadino shooters does not work on more recent models, according to the Bureau’s director, James Comey.
Comey told attendees during a speech at Kenyon University that the FBI bought the method to unlock the phone from a third party, but was convinced that it would not slip into the wrong hands.
“The people we bought this from, I know a fair amount about them and I have a high degree of confidence that they are good at protecting it,” he said.
He admitted that despite their success in unlocking the phone, which prompted the FBI to drop its legal case against Apple, the method would probably not work on iPhone’s manufactured since the introduction of the 5s.
“It's a bit of a technological corner case, because the world has moved on to [iPhone]6,” Comey explained.
“This doesn't work on [iPhone]6, doesn't work on a 5s. So we have a tool that works on a narrow slice of phones. I can never be completely confident, but I'm pretty confident about that.”
It is speculated that the method does not work on processors featuring Apple’s ‘Secure Enclave’ technology which is included in all processors used in iPhone’s since the 5s.
Secure Enclave was introduced as a core feature in the A7 chipset to support the Touch ID feature which allows users to unlock their phones using a fingerprint scanner.
It also serves as the security backbone for Apple Pay, which was introduced with the successor to the 5s, the iPhone 6.
Although the model used by the shooter, the 5c, was released at the same time as the 5s it used the older A6 chipset in order to lower the device’s cost as part of Apple’s attempt to introduce a cheaper variant of the iPhone.
Earlier this week, Barclays became the last major bank in the UK to announce support for Apple Pay after delaying its introduction, possibly because it already had its own contactless payment solution in the form of bPay.
In February, tech industry executives said that the court case between the FBI and Apple over encryption would likely convince tech companies to further bolster their efforts to engineer safeguards against government intrusion.
Meanwhile, the White House has declined to offer public support for long-awaited legislation that would give federal judges clearer authority to order technology companies to help law enforcement crack encrypted data.
The Obama administration's refusal to either endorse or oppose legislation from Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican chair and top Democrat respectively of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stems in part from ongoing divisions among various federal agencies over encryption, according to sources familiar with internal discussions.
The White House last year backed away from pursuing legislation that would require US technology firms to provide a ‘back door’ to access encrypted data.
In the UK however, lawmakers are still trying to push the Investigatory Powers Bill through, nicknamed the ‘snooper's charter', which originally obliged technology firms to weaken security by undermining encryption systems before later changes weakened this policy.