FBI Director James Comey Confirms Elite Hacking Tool Agency Bought Only Works On iPhone 5c

Whatever method the Federal Bureau of Investigation used to extract data from the iPhone 5c model that was once in possession of Syed Farook, one of the terrorists involved in the deadly San Bernardino shooting, it appears it will not work for any other generation iPhone. That's if taking FBI director James Comey's comments at face value.

Comey was on hand at Kenyon College in Ohio to give a speech on encryption and surveillance. During the talk and subsequent question and answer session, Comey said the U.S. government bought a tool that made it possible to access the iPhone 5c handset in its possession, but claimed the tool doesn't work on other models.

Apple iPhone 5c

"This doesn't work on 6s, doesn't work in a 5s, and so we have a tool that works on a narrow slice of phones," Comey said.

How exactly the tool works isn't something that's known outside of the FBI or the third-party that it bought the tool from, and the agency isn't likely to share that information with Apple. All Comey was really willing to say on the matter is that he's confident in the company that it originated from.

"The people that we bought this from, I know a fair amount about them and I have a high degree of confidence that they are very good at protecting it, and their motivations align with ours," Comey said.

Open iPhone

One possible method that's been passed around the web is carefully de-soldering the NAND flash memory chip from the iPhone 5c and then making backup copies. Having those backups in place would allow the FBI to guess at the passcode in rapid fashion until successful.

Had the FBI not obtained the tool and ultimately been able to crack the iPhone 5c, the matter may have played out in court. At the time, Apple was fighting a court order to help the FBI break into the iPhone 5c handset. It's a matter that probably would have ended up before the Supreme Court.