FBI Director James Comey Admits Agency Goofed By Resetting Terrorist’s iCloud Password

The high profile dispute between the FBI and Apple is one that didn't have to play out in the public eye. Had the FBI gone to Apple right away with the iPhone 5c that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters, Apple could instructed the agency on the proper steps to obtaining the data kept inside, but the FBI made a mistake. FBI director James Comey admitted as much during a House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday.

"There was a mistake made in the first 24 hours, where the county, at the FBI's request, made it hard to make the phone back up by [changing he password of] the iCloud account," Comey testified. His statement was an about-face from comments made prior to the hearing in which the FBI contended that changing the password wasn't a goof up.

Apple iPhone 5c

Not only was it a major mistake, but this whole mess playing out in the public eye might have been avoided if the FBI solicited Apple's help, privately, to begin with. It obviously didn't, though Comey tried to downplay his agency's screw-up. Comey was quick to point out that experts say a backup of the iPhone 5c wouldn't have contained all the information the agency is after.

By changing the password, the FBI was able to see a list of previous backups that were made on the handset, the last one occurring six weeks before the shooting. In that regard, the FBI is right in its assessment that a backup might not contain all the data it's hoping to extract. However, had the FBI approached Apple first, the Cupertino outfit would have advised the agency to plug the phone into a power source before doing anything else in hopes that would connect to a wireless network and backup its current contents.

The FBI chose to do things on its own, and now it wants Apple to fix the agency's mistake by building a backdoor into the iPhone. Apple's essentially been asked to write a new version of iOS that doesn't have the same security safeguards in place, which would allow the FBI to attempt to guess the phone's passcode with brute-force.

Apple isn't willing to go down that road in fear that it would leave hundreds of millions of iPhones vulnerable.