A new report from Forbes suggests the FBI may already have the tools to unlock the Pensacola suspect's iPhone despite asking Apple for a backdoor. The publication discovered a search warrant from 2019 that reveals the FBI's use of a GreyKey on a suspect's iPhone 11 Pro Max.
The GreyKey is created by GreyShift, an Atlanta company founded by a former Apple engineer. A brochure previously uncovered by Forbes suggests the tool can break and grab information from the oldest iPhones, but also from older ones, going as far back as the iPhone 4s. The Pensacola shooter's phones are an iPhone 5 and 7s Plus.
The question then is why exactly the FBI needs Apple's help in this case. Is it related to the brochures asterisk after iOS version 12.2, or is there another factor at play? Though Apple has continually beefed up its security, firms like Cellebrite claim they can still crack phones on any iOS version. Senator Wyden's office says it has asked the DoJ for clarification.
“The FBI's technical experts—as well as those consulted outside of the organization—have played an integral role in this investigation,” it said in a previous statement “The consensus was reached, after all efforts to access the shooter's phones had been unsuccessful, that the next step was to reach out to start a conversation with Apple.”
There's a possibility that the FBI's struggle relates to damage to the hardware of the phones, rather than solely software cracking. A bullet struck one of the devices carried by shooter and reported Saudi Arabian aviation pilot Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani before he was killed.
However, the FBI may also be after a precedent after its failure to win a case forcing Apple to bypass the phone of the San Bernadino shooters in 2016. A working relationship with the company to re-engineer devices to suit its investigative needs, and such a case could work as publicity should a bill be proposed by lawmakers or another legal case takes off.