The US government purchased “a tool” from a private party to unlock the iPhone used by a Pakistani-American shooter involved in the San Bernardino terror attack, according to FBI Director James Comey.
“Litigation between the government and Apple over the San Bernardino phone has ended, because the government has purchased, from a private party, a way to get into that phone, 5C, running iOS 9,” Comey said.
Law enforcement officials said last month that they had finally cracked the iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, one of two shooters in the December 2015 attack that left 14 people dead in California.
But they did not go into details, other than to say an unnamed third party had provided assistance.
In an effort to access information stored on his phone, the US government had pursued legal action in order to force Apple to help bypass the phone’s security features.
Apple declined to assist, saying that to do so would compromise the security of all iPhone users. The company argued that law enforcement officials didn’t understand the consequences of creating a backdoor into the phone.
After the case was dropped, speculation swirled as reporters and analysts tried to identify the third party that helped the government unlock the phone.
Comey revealed additional information about the source of the tool Wednesday.
“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, and their motivations align with ours,” he was quoted as saying by CNN.
The FBI director also said the purchased tool worked only on a “narrow slice of phones” that does not include the newest Apple models, or the 5S.
Comey said the government was currently considering whether to tell Apple how it pulled off the hack.
“We tell Apple, then they’re going to fix it, then we’re back where we started from,” he said, adding that, “We may end up there, we just haven’t decided yet.”
Farook, a Pakistani-American and his wife Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani national, died in a firefight with police after the December 2 terror attack.