Ever since the FBI opted for plan B and resorted to using the services of some third party to gain access to the San Bernardino iPhone, speculation has been rife about whether the hack could be used again. A new report suggests it can—but only on the same model of phone.
Sources from the US government apparently tell Reuters that the FBI will be able to use the iPhone unlocking hack on phones with the same specifications as the San Bernardino device—so, that means other iPhone 5C handsets running iOS 9. The sources say it won’t need to pay the team that cracked the phone if it uses it again, because “[t]he FBI, not the contractor, has physical possession of the mechanism used to open the phone.”
The same sources claim, however, that while the FBI might have possession of the technology, it “does not know details of how it works.”
That’s not the only thing that’s unknown. While there’s been much speculation about who actually hacked the iPhone, the sources claim that even the FBI Director James Comey isn’t aware of their identity. The details are apparently “closely guarded” within the Bureau.
If the news about re-use is accurate, it goes a little way towards skidding down a slippery slope of setting a precedent for the FBI unlocking iPhones at will—but, err, only iPhone 5Cs running iOS 9 by the sounds of things. So it’s not quite the cancerous master key that Tim Cook feared.
Interestingly, the same sources tell Reuters that the FBI actually paid “under $1 million” for the hack—a figure which is at odds with Comey’s public claims last week, which suggested it cost in excess of $1.3 million. We can perhaps glean from the two reports that the company made somewhere in the region of $1 million, at least.