Yesterday, the FBI announced that it had managed to break into the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone sans help from Apple. The iPhone manufacturer will undoubtedly be pleased that the court case has come to an end without the company having to cave in and assist the agency.
In a statement, Apple said: "From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought". But with the FBI's previous insistence that help from Apple was absolutely essential, some serious questions remain.
The secrecy surrounding the case means that, however loudly the company shouts about being opposed to helping the FBI, we'll never really know if, behind the scenes, Apple was in fact offering help. To publicly admit helping would be a PR - and financial - disaster, so it makes perfect sense to be vocally against the idea. It's entirely possible, of course, that the FBI achieved its aim with the assistance of Israeli security firm Cellebrite, but the point is: we'll never know.
If Apple was not involved in cracking the iPhone 5c, the company's customers will want it to press the FBI for details of the technique used to access the data. If one iPhone 5c running iOS 9 can be cracked, so can others - it's a potential security nightmare when there's no way of containing who has access to the software or tools that were used in the successful hack. Apple and its customers will want to know what security flaw was exploited to gain access in so that it can be plugged.
Without details from the FBI and its helpers, it's impossible to know whether the technique used only worked on the San Bernardino iPhone, or whether it could be applied to others. With the current focus on privacy and security in the technology world it's important that this is made abundantly clear - but who do you trust enough to believe?
Apple's full response statement clearly chalks this up as a win:
It seems that the FBI has achieved its goal. What's needed now is an element of transparency. As suggested by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, concerns will almost certainly mount around the government's ability to access data on other iPhones:
A final thought: can you imagine any other technology company having its security bypassed and then calling it a win?