DoJ Says 3rd Party Can Crack Terror Suspect's iPhone

Apple's encryption privacy court battle with the FBI and Department of Justice (DoJ) took a new twist Tuesday when the government agency said that it has found a third party that can unlock the phone.

A court hearing on the case scheduled for Tuesday was postponed by a federal judge at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice . The DoJ had asked Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) to help it break through the security layer of the iPhone of deceased San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook after the December 2015 attacks. Apple has so far refused and fought the case in court. (See MWC 2016: Cisco CEO on the Economy & Encryption .)

Now the DoJ says an unnamed third party has come forward and said it can break through Apple's security. The FBI can run tests on the phone until April 5 and then has to report to the court.

Farook's iPhone 5C is protected by a four-digit password, which will corrupt the data inside if the code is entered incorrectly too many times. If the FBI can circumvent the encryption security layer, it can crack into the phone without worrying about damaging the data.

There are already multiple theories about why the DoJ asked to postpone the court hearing: From talk that the NSA stepped in to help the FBI crack the phone, to suggestions that a specialist security firm has found a way to break into Apple's iOS 9 operating system.

Apple's tough stance on encryption and iPhone users' data privacy rights has been further questioned by some security experts after Tuesday's terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium. Their concern is that encrypted communications thwart security services trying to track and stop potential attacks in the dark.

The ongoing debate comes as the company has just introduced its latest smartphone to the world. The $99 iPhone SE, with a four-inch screen, harkens back to the iPhone 5 and earlier models.

The return to the smaller form factor, however, seems to have been somewhat overshadowed by the DoJ's dramatic turnabout on the San Bernardino iPhone case Tuesday.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

DanJones 3/23/2016 | 10:57:12 AM
Not good news for Apple? If a third party has found a way to crack iOS 9.
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