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FBI briefs senators drafting anti-encryption bill on iPhone hack

US senators drafting a bill aimed at limiting encryption on consumer devices are being briefed on how the FBI hacked into the San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone

The FBI is briefing US senators drafting an anti-encryption bill on how it bypassed security on the San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone to access data on the device.

The FBI has briefed Democrat senator Diane Feinstein, with Republican senator Richard Burr expected to be briefed soon, according to the National Journal.  

However, there is still no indication on whether the FBI will share the same information with Apple, which is keen to ensure the best protection for iPhone users.

Feinstein and Burr are reportedly drafting a bill aimed at limiting the use of encryption on consumer technology and will require tech firms such as Apple to help law enforcement access encrypted data.

The FBI recently avoided a courtroom showdown with Apple by calling in the help of a third party when Apple refused to help access the iPhone data of San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook.

The case has fuelled debate over encryption and privacy, and prompted big US technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook to come out in support of Apple.

The iPhone had been issued to Farook by his employer, the country health department, and was found a day after Farook and his wife died in a gun battle with police after killing 14 people.

Tool used to access iPhone’s data

FBI director James Comey shed some more light on how Farook’s iPhone security was bypassed in a speech at Kenyon College in Ohio.

He said the FBI had purchased a tool to access the data and that he had a “high degree of confidence” that the suppliers of the tool are very good at protecting it, reports Fox News.

Comey also said the tool works only on an iPhone 5C, as used by Farook, and no other versions of the Apple smartphone.

The tool is believed to have enabled the FBI to bypass the iPhone security feature that prevents more than 10 attempts to enter the correct passcode and increases time delays between attempts.

Comey is on record as saying that, without those features, the FBI could break into the phone in 26 minutes.

Sharing information

A senior FBI official told The Wall Street Journal on 5 April 2016 that investigators are still analysing the phone and a decision on sharing their findings will be made after the analysis is complete

Apple, backed by other tech firms and privacy groups, has called on the FBI to share details on how it unlocked Farook’s iPhone without knowing its passcode.

It had hoped that the FBI could be compelled to reveal how it accessed the iPhone data by a new government policy. The policy says that a federal agency will disclose information if it discovers flaws in a company’s security so the company can provide a fix.

But that hope is reportedly fading now in the light of the fact that the FBI claims to have purchased a tool for the job, rather than exploiting any vulnerability.

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