Apple Remains in Dark on How FBI Hacked iPhone Without Help

The FBI's announcement that it mysteriously hacked into an iPhone is a public setback for Apple Inc., as consumers learned that they can't keep the government out of even an encrypted device that U.S. officials had claimed was impossible to crack. Apple, meanwhile, remains in the dark about how to restore the security of its flagship product.

The government said it was able to break into an iPhone used by a gunman in a mass shooting in California, but it didn't say how. That puzzled Apple software engineers -- and outside experts -- about how the FBI broke the digital locks on the phone without Apple's help. It also complicated Apple's job repairing flaws that jeopardize its software.

The Justice Department's announcement that it was dropping a legal fight to compel Apple to help it access the phone also took away any obvious legal avenues Apple might have used to learn how the FBI did it. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym on Tuesday vacated her Feb. 16 order, which compelled Apple to assist the FBI in hacking their phone.

The Justice Department declined through a spokeswoman to comment Tuesday.

A few clues have emerged. A senior law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the FBI managed to defeat an Apple security feature that threatened to delete the phone's contents if the FBI failed to enter the correct passcode combination after 10 tries. That allowed the government to repeatedly and continuously test passcodes in what's known as a brute-force attack until the right code is entered and the phone is unlocked.

It wasn't clear how the FBI dealt with a related Apple security feature that introduces increasing time delays between guesses. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss the technique publicly.

FBI Director James Comey has said with those...

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