Los Angeles: The FBI has unlocked the iPhone used by a Pakistani-origin gunman in the San Bernardino attack and accessed the data on the device without Apple's help, the US government said today, ending a legal battle with the tech- giant that saw authorities pitted against the Silicon Valley.
Department of Justice said FBI was able to use a new method suggested by a third party to hack into an iPhone that was used by Syed Farook, who alongwith his Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California on December 2, before being shot by the police.
As a result, the government "no longer requires the assistance from Apple" and is dropping its efforts to compel Apple to crack its own iPhone encryption against its will.
The one-month-old legal standoff saw tech-giants of Silicon Valley like Facebook and Google rallying behind Apple, which was fiercely opposed to unlocking the iPhone on the grounds that it will compromise user privacy.
However, FBI's sudden success in circumventing Apple's security measures might raise new questions about whether Apple's products are truly ironclad.
It will also lead to heightened speculation over the "outside party" that assisted the government at the last minute and criticism from some quarters over the FBI's failure to hack into an iPhone on its own.
"Our decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone," US Attorney Eileen M Decker said in a statement.
Apple's faceoff with the government started just over five weeks ago, when the Justice Department obtained a court order compelling Apple to assist the FBI?in bypassing the lock screen of the iPhone 5C that Farook had used.
While FBI was unable to unlock the phone, it feared that too many attempts to guess the passcode would cause the phone to wipe its memory completely.
Apple fought the court order vigorously and said that creating a workaround for one iPhone's encryption would set a "dangerous" precedent and imperil the security of all users.
Last week, less than 24 hours before a hearing was scheduled in the case, the government said it might have found an alternative method to gain access to the phone that didn't require Apple's assistance.
The details of the FBI's new found method of accessing the phone aren't clear but clues suggest that the Israel-based security firm Cellebrite?could be the FBI's white knight.
The FBI "successfully retrieved the data stored on the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone," said Melanie Newman, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
Though she said that investigators were "currently reviewing the information on the phone," she did not say whether there was any useful information on the phone at all.
Apple did not immediately comment on the case.
Apple is also fighting government orders to assist in bypassing an iPhone lock screen in an unrelated drug case in Brooklyn, New York.