Not much has been said about the mysterious tool the FBI used to hack an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooting suspects. But, according to FBI director James Comey, the tool won’t work on most iPhone models.
In a speech at Kenyon College in Ohio Wednesday, Comey touched on the controversial iPhone hacking case that sparked an international debate about data privacy back in February.
During that time, the FBI asked Apple for its help in hacking an iPhone belonging to Syed Farook, one of two shooters in the December 2015 attack that left 14 people dead.
Apple refused to comply with the order, saying it would create a so-called “back door” into the iPhone and jeopardize user privacy around the world.
Not much has been said about how the FBI was able to break into the phone since the agency abruptly dropped its legal case against Apple at the end of March.
Comey did not provide any details about the technology used to hack the iPhone in question – other than noting the FBI purchased an unspecified “tool” from a third party in order to access data on the phone.
However, he did allege that the technology only works on iPhone 5C models.
“This doesn’t work on 6s – doesn’t work on a 5S. So we have a tool that works on a narrow slice of phones,” Comey said.
In other words, if you use an iPhone 4, 4S, 5S, 6, or 6S, the FBI likely can’t hack your phone.
So what does that mean for the people who have an iPhone 5C?
Well, Comey said he’s fairly confident the unnamed third party won’t let this tool fall 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 very good at protecting it.”
To his credit, Comey did note that he had to be “a little bit vague” in his explanation, noting “the FBI is really good at keeping secrets.”
Comey also revealed that the FBI is “having discussions” about whether or not to tell Apple about this tool.
“If we tell Apple then we will have to fix it and then we are right back to where we started from,” he laughed.
You can listen to Comey’s remarks below starting at the 52:00 mark: