Dept. of Justice May Have Found Way to Unlock San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone

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Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook were photographed at O’Hare Airport in July 2014. (Credit: Chicago O’Hare Airport via CNN Wire)

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On the eve of a court showdown with Apple, the Department of Justice wants to cancel the hearing, saying it may have found a way into the iPhone Syed Farook, the gunman in the San Bernardino shooting, was using.

The DOJ has been pressuring Apple for help in gaining access to Farook’s iPhone.

But in a court filing on Monday, the DOJ said it may no longer need Apple.

“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone…If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple Inc,” the document reads.

Federal investigators want to see what data is available on the iPhone, but it is permanently locked. They can’t try to guess the passcode, because if its self-destruct feature is turned on, it will erase its key after 10 incorrect passcode attempts.

The FBI wants Apple to create special software that will let it bypass the phone’s security protocols so it can try endless password combinations.

Apple has been fighting that order. Its central argument: Removing the security protection in this case would create a “backdoor” that could potentially allow the government or hackers to break into similar iPhones.

A judge in February ruled Apple must comply with the government’s request, and the DOJ and Apple were due back before that judge on Tuesday after a month of legal briefings.

But now the DOJ wants to put that off, though it’s unclear whether the judge has agreed to delay the hearing. Nor has the DOJ identified the “outside party” that offered to help unlock the phone.

If the “outside party’s” method is successful, it’s not good news for Apple.

The company is committed to developing un-hackable security, and if a third party does have a way to bypass the phone’s lock system, it indicates iPhones’ security is not as tight as Apple would like — at least for the encryption software installed on the iPhone 5C that Farook was using.

Apple says it is constantly working to update its security features. And after its legal battle with the DOJ began, the company committed to developing a software so secure that even its own developers cannot break in.

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