The Justice Department has filed a request today to drop their lawsuit against Apple, in which the FBI was attempting to force the technology giant to hack its iOS operating system to allow the FBI to access an encrypted iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Apple had resisted the effort on the grounds that it would open up not just the single targeted iPhone, but all iPhones to security risks, and that building a backdoor into iPhones would undermine the security of tens of millions of users worldwide.
Since then, reports have emerged that Apple engineers are working to eliminate this issue in future iPhones, aiming to make the phones so secure that even Apple themselves wouldn’t be able to crack them. FBI officials have sought to vilify Apple for the effort, arguing they were using their resistance to FBI demands as a marketing program.
While the request filed with the court only says ambiguously that the FBI “no longer requires” Apple’s help, subsequent media reports have suggested that the FBI has managed to break into the phone through some existing mechanism.
That spares Apple the hassle of a lawsuit, but undercuts their presentation of iPhones as secure products, for much as with Apple’s concern about building a backdoor, if the FBI can break into one iPhone, they may be able to break into them all.
This may put the FBI in a tough spot, however, as the Obama Administration has long championed a system called the “Vulnerabilities Equities Process,” or VEP, which obliges the US government to reveal security flaws it finds in private software to improve security.
The FBI will doubtless prefer to keep their method of breaking into iPhones a state secret, but with the fact that they have done so made public, they will have a difficult time dodging official policy, particularly on such a widely used piece of technology.