A new method to crack open locked iPhones is so promising that US government officials have classified it, the Guardian has learned.
The Justice Department made headlines on Monday when it postponed a federal court hearing in California. It had been due to confront Apple over an order that would have forced it to write software that would make it easier for investigators to guess the passcode for an iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook.
The government now says it may have figured out a way to get into the phone without Apple’s help. But it wants that discovery to remain secret, in an effort to prevent criminals, security researchers and even Apple itself from reengineering smartphones so that the tactic would no longer work.
Currently, the Justice Department is still testing to make sure the method doesn’t damage or erase data stored on devices before using it on Farook’s phone. The technique does successfully allow the government to get inside locked iPhones, the Guardian has confirmed.
US officials quickly realized the discovery could be a mixed blessing, people briefed on the developments said. On the one hand, the government may be able to avoid a controversial legal fight with America’s most valuable company. On the other, the government now has to be very cautious about when to use the method, which was provided by an “outside party”, according to court filings.