If the U.S. government is able to unlock an iPhone used by a suspected terrorist without Apple's help, it spells trouble for users' privacy but that may not hurt Apple's image, according to strategists.
On Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told a U.S. judge that a third party had "demonstrated an alternate method" for unlocking the iPhone used by the suspect behind last year's terror attack in San Bernardino, California.
If that's true, it would shatter the illusion that Apple can create unbreakable software, said Gene Munster, managing director and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray.
"People are going to question how secure the iOS [Apple's operating system] is if the FBI can hire someone to hack it."
For months, debate has raged on whether the tech behemoth should assist the FBI by unlocking the iPhone 5c used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in an assault on a government center on December 2.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has insisted that he will not concede, citing the "catastrophic security implications" of creating a hack to one of the world's most popular phones.
If the FBI is able to do so without the aid of Apple or global tech companies who have thrown their support behind Cook, it could bring Cook's doomsday predictions on privacy into reality, Munster said.
"It sends a message that you are never really secure... The implication is you have to be careful what you use your phone for," he told CNBC's Asia Squawk Box.
So far, the FBI has not offered details on how it came up with this third-party solution.