FBI can't tell Apple how it unlocked the San Bernardino iPhone

Because it doesn't own the technique used to crack it open.

Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr

The feds might never let Apple in on the secret of the technique they used to unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone 5c. According to Reuters, the hackers who discovered the flaw that led to the FBI's iPhone-cracking tool have the sole legal ownership of the method. Agents might not even know what the vulnerability is or how its resulting hardware works exactly. If you'll recall, a recent Washington Post report revealed that the feds got help from a group of hackers -- from outside the US, Reuters' sources said -- with a history of selling software vulnerabilities to the US government. They were paid a flat fee for the flaw they brought the FBI and the tool they developed.

FBI Director James B. Comey said during a privacy conference last week that the government is considering whether to give Apple details about the technique. See, the White House typically subjects the security flaws it gets a hold of to a procedure called the Vulnerabilities Equities Process. It gives various agencies the chance to discuss what should be done to those security flaws, and whether they should be disclosed to their respective companies. Unfortunately, the process' rules don't cover vulnerabilities discovered and owned by private companies. The only way the government can decide on this particular flaw's fate is to give the equities process an overhaul.