Well, that might have been one big waste of time.
After gaining access to the San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook’s iPhone recently, the FBI hasn’t found anything of “significance” that could help its investigation, CBS News is reporting, citing a source with knowledge of the FBI’s activities.
After spending approximately two months trying to crack into Farook’s iPhone 5c, the U.S. Justice Department sued for Apple’s help in unlocking the device in February. After a magistrate judge sided with the FBI, Apple quickly responded, countering that it had no intention of helping law enforcement agents unlock the handset. Apple, led by its CEO Tim Cook, argued that it stood for personal privacy and helping the FBI with Farook’s iPhone could set a “dangerous precedent” and violate all of its users’ digital privacy.
A war of words erupted for about a month until the FBI announced that it was shuttering its case with Apple. The Justice Department revealed in a cryptic court filing that it had successfully unlocked the iPhone with help from an unidentified third-party. Apple has since asked for the method, but FBI Director James Comey said last week that he was unsure whether he would comply with the iPhone maker’s request.
Comey added that the flaw, which is now believed to have been found by hackers who worked with the FBI, would only work on an iPhone 5c running iOS 9—a relatively small slice of Apple’s total iPhone users who have largely moved on to the bigger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s lines.
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“This doesn’t work on [an iPhone] 6s, doesn’t work in a 5s, and so we have a tool that works on a narrow slice of phones,” Comey said during a question-and-answer session recently.
The iPhone 5c in question was viewed as critical to the FBI’s investigation. Comey and his cohorts argued that obtaining the data on the device could aid not only in bringing “justice” to the victims on the deadly December attack, but perhaps also lead the FBI to other alleged terrorists.
So far, that hasn’t panned out, making the kerfuffle over the iPhone case one that might never have needed to happen.
Indeed, if the crack was all for nothing, the FBI could have caused more damage. Apple is reportedly now working on strengthening its iCloud service to make it harder for law enforcement to access photos, videos, and contacts stored in its servers. WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in the world, announced recently that it now supports end-to-end encryption across all of its apps. Meanwhile, several major technology companies have stood by Apple in defense of digital rights and privacy.
For Tim Cook’s take on Apple vs. FBI, watch:
Despite the possible trouble that a failure in obtaining useful data could create, the FBI isn’t giving up. According to CBS News, the FBI is still combing through Farook’s device and might still find the information it so desires.
The Justice Department declined comment. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.