The FBI wants Apple to unlock iPhones used by suspected Pensacola naval station shooter

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking help from engineers at Apple to help it unlock two iPhones owned by a gunman suspected of carrying out a shooting attack that took place last month at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.

The FBI believes that Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani is responsible for carrying out the fatal shooting attack that killed three people. It wrote in a Monday letter to Apple’s general counsel that both phones are protected by a passcode. “Investigators are actively engaging in efforts to ‘guess’ the relevant passcodes but so far have been unsuccessful,” the FBI said.

NBC News has the story:

The letter, from FBI General Counsel Dana Boente, said officials have sought help from other federal agencies, as well as from experts in foreign countries and ‘familiar contacts in the third-party vendor community.’


A law enforcement official said there’s an additional problem with one of the iPhones thought to belong to Alshamrani, who was killed by a deputy during the attack: He apparently fired a round into the phone, further complicating efforts to unlock it.

Even though the Pensacola shooter is dead, the agents want to search the phone “out of an abundance of caution.” The two iPhones were sent to the FBI’s crime lab in Quantico, Virginia. “We stand ready from a logistical standpoint to do whatever is needed of us to work with Apple in effectuating the court’s order,” the agency said.

Apple issued the following statement yesterday:

We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations. When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available.

It’s unclear if the FBI might have paid Israeli security firm Cellebrite to help crack the passcodes. Cellebrite’s software is thought to have helped the law enforcement agency open the locked iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook back in 2015.

As you know, Apple engaged in a public war with the FBI and argued that creating a version of the iOS mobile operating system that lacked security protections, which in turn would permit the feds to bypass the passcode, was unacceptable from a security standpoint.