Silicon Valley breathes sigh of relief in Apple case

The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters on Feb. 23, 2016, in Washington, D.C.
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The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters on Feb. 23, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Silicon Valley security experts are breathing a sigh of relief following news that Apple and the FBI will not have their day in court, at least not today.

"Things have gotten really out of hand," said Dr. Herbert Lin, senior research scholar for cyberpolicy and security at Stanford University. "Whatever the outcome is, you shouldn't come to it when you're fighting."

The fight over access to the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terror suspects is on hiatus, as the DOJ works with an unnamed outside party to unlock the device without Apple's help.


This latest development proves the government failed to exhaust alternatives before taking action against Apple, said security industry insiders.

"We're disappointed that the FBI claimed they'd exhausted all options before asking for the court order, and then announced a few weeks later that they'd received a possible 'third party unlocking method,' " said Forrester research analyst Laura Koetzle.

"We're not surprised that someone found a potentially viable way in," she said. "One can almost always find a way to crack into a system, given enough time, expertise and resources."


Not everyone is relieved, though. Others are disappointed that it now looks as if this particular case may not bring any clarity to this debate around privacy and encryption.

"We are going to find ourselves back in the same spot with Apple or a different technology in the near future," said Ben Johnson, co-founder of Carbon Black and former NSA worker. "Security and privacy have always butted heads, and we were hoping this would help reach some sort of standard and conclusion for cases to come."


It could, however, provide an opportunity for a more measured public debate outside of the courtroom.

"I hope Apple and the DOJ take this opportunity to step back, take a breath and join a constructive discussion to help balance the legitimate, competing interests of law enforcement and privacy advocates," said FireEye's chief privacy officer, Shane McGee.

"Ultimately, Congress will need to decide how to address the issue of government access to these devices, and the sooner we start a calm, reasoned dialogue, the sooner we'll have a resolution," he said.

The FBI will provide an update on its tests to unlock the phone. If unsuccessful, the two sides will likely resume their courtroom battle.