The encryption on Apple's iPhone has led the way when it comes to protecting consumers' privacy, providing a barrier so impenetrable that even Apple says it does not have a way to access a user's encrypted device and doesn't want to create a "back door" for fear of undermining security.
New questions have arisen this week in the encryption debate after federal officials said a third party successfully helped the FBI retrieve data from a locked iPhone that had been used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Will Officials Share Information With Apple on How the iPhone Was Accessed?
If the FBI has successfully accessed the data on the locked iPhone, will they share details about the method used with Apple?
The decision that will be made through consultation with multiple federal agencies, sources said. One federal law enforcement source said it’s important to emphasize that the ultimate solution identified in this case was not found despite the lawsuit filed against Apple, but because of the media attention generated by it.
A Brooklyn drug case with a locked iPhone may be one to watch in the future.
If the Justice Department decides to continue with its bid to compel Apple for help unlocking the phone, it is possible Apple could push the government to reveal its method for getting into the San Bernardino shooter’s phone.
Is There Something Apple Will Need to Fix?
Apple has continuously worked to enhance the security of its devices and stay steps ahead of hackers, so the company used to always fine-tuning its security features.
"From the beginning, we objected to the FBI's demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred," an Apple representative said in a statement Monday night. "We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated."
Who Helped the FBI?
The whole reason the FBI had sought Apple's help in unlocking the iPhone is because they were not able to crack it. Officials declined to name the third party who came forward to help get into the locked iPhone.
Robert Siciliano, an online safety expert at Intel Security, told ABC News that encryption is extremely difficult but possible to crack.
"It’s certainly not what one would consider easy, that is the whole point of encryption," Siciliano said. "[But] we are dealing with computer science and science of any kind can be reverse engineered. If it can be built by putting together various technology, it can also be taken apart and its roots exposed."
Data on iPhones is encrypted and Apple has an auto-erase function making it trickier for a third party to break into a locked phone. Make 10 unsuccessful attempts to open a locked phone using the 4-digit user-created code and the iPhone and all the data it holds is rendered inaccessible. The 4-digit code you enter into your phone initiates a complex calculation that generates a unique key to unlock the data on the phone. No key, no data. The auto-erase function, if triggered, will wipe out all the encryption keys, rendering the data on the iPhone useless.
What Does This Mean for Future Cases?
The legal precedent authorities were hoping to set didn't happen, essentially punting the issue down the line for future cases that may arise.
"This seemed like the perfect case and that has evaporated but now the question is, will Congress step in?" Mark Bartholomew, a law professor at the University of Buffalo who studies encryption and cyber law, told ABC News. "This is such an important story, so I could see Congress weighing in on this issue. We need a more fine-tuned answer than what we are getting from this case. Congress needs to be precise about what this technology should look like and when consumer interests would trump law enforcement."
ABC News' Jack Date, Mike Levine and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.