The battle between the FBI and Apple over the unlocking of the 'San Bernardino iPhone' has taken an interesting twist: the FBI has reportedly found another way to unlock the device, as demonstrated by an "outside party", that may not require Apple to do anything.
In a document filed with the courts, the Department of Justice has requested that tomorrow's hearing be vacated due to this discovery.
“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone. Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple Inc. (“Apple”) set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case.”
The filing explains that the FBI has been researching alternate methods to unlock the iPhone 5c in question since it was obtained late last year, even while the court case involving Apple was in process. Due to the publicity the case was receiving, several third parties have contacted the FBI to present possible ways of circumventing the device's security measures, and at least one of them appears to be viable.
With the DoJ asking for the hearing to be cancelled, the FBI will shift its focus to testing the viability of the method presented to them, and whether or not it will destroy the data stored on the phone. If the unlocking method is successful, they won't require any further assistance from Apple.
The DoJ expects to file a status report with the courts by April 5th that will give more information on their efforts to unlock the iPhone using this new method.
If the FBI does have a way to unlock the iPhone in question without specially-designed firmware from Apple, it suggests there is a zero-day vulnerability in the operating system running on the device. This could present a security risk to other users, and if details of the vulnerability become public, it could be used by others to circumvent the security of millions of iPhones.