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FBI Intends To Keep Hacking Tool Used In San Bernardino iPhone Secret

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The highly publicized battle between FBI and Apple over encryption may be far from over.

Now the tables have been slightly turned, as everyone awaits the FBI's final decision on whether the agency will fully divulge the information to Apple on how it was able to crack the encryption of the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone.

Back in February, the FBI attempted to compel Apple to code a backdoor for the encryption built in the device. Apple refused to comply, explaining the security risks that creating a backdoor would pose to its customers.

A statement released by Apple's chief executive officer Tim Cook says the FBI is setting "a dangerous precedent," and the agency's demand is a clear violation of the "freedoms and liberty the government is meant to protect."

Privacy activists and other technology companies rallied behind Apple, saying that it is wrong to force the OEM to code a workaround as it would create a string of security issues that could potentially affect millions of users worldwide.

Due to overwhelming public outcry, the FBI explored other means of accessing the device and abandoned the case against Apple. In March, FBI decided to hire an undisclosed third-party to crack the iPhone's encryption. Tech Times reported that the FBI paid more than $1 million to purchase the hacking tool to access the data on terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook's encrypted iPhone.

The FBI has been silent on the specific vulnerability used to access the device. Traditionally, the government, academia, and technology providers work together to fix security holes and vulnerabilities as they are discovered. This equal sharing of information among these groups ensures that any discovered vulnerabilities are patched and critical systems are protected, benefiting businesses, the government, and consumers.

The FBI states it is neither sure of the final methodology used by the third-party consultant to access the data, nor does it have access to the source code from the third-party, so it does not have the required details for Apple to code a patch.

Even so, the FBI is in the process of gathering data and completing a report for the White House about the method used. In a cybersecurity conference in Washington, FBI director James Comey said the agency is close to making a recommendation to the White House's Vulnerabilities Equities Process but refused to comment whether the agency will have sufficient information to provide during the inquiry. The multi-agency review council was set up by the Obama administration to determine whether newly discovered software and hardware vulnerabilities warrant complete disclosure to companies and the public, so they can be patched.

Apple is now waiting to see if it will be provided the information it needs to potentially fix the security vulnerability used to break its iOS encryption. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Apple said that regardless of whether the FBI would release the vulnerability details or not, it promises to continue to tighten security of all Apple products and to develop patches for future vulnerabilities.

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