FBI: San Bernardino attacker's iCloud password reset, information may be lost

Feb. 21, 2016 at 2:05 PM
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SAN BERNADINO, Calif., Feb. 21 (UPI) -- FBI investigators said a password reset on the San Bernadino shooter's iCloud account connected to his iPhone early in the investigation may have lost them the opportunity to extract weeks worth of information from the device.

The FBI said Saturday despite that misstep, the bureau's goal remains to extract as much evidence as possible from shooter Syed Rizwan Farook's phone.

In the chaotic wake of the Dec. 2 shooting that left 14 dead, the bureau had San Bernadino County reset the password to the phone's iCloud account.

By resetting the county-owned phone, both the county and the FBI eliminated any possibility of retrieving data beyond Oct. 19 through an auto-backup feature, experts say.

On Dec. 6, in an effort to recover data from the iPhone 5c, the FBI asked a San Bernardino County technician to reset the phone's iCloud password. The action precluded any possibility of an automatic backup to the Apple iCloud servers which might have turned up more clues about why or how the attack occurred, the Washington Post reported.

It's unclear what help the contents of Farook's phone might provide investigators, the Los Angeles Times reported. Almost seven weeks of potential messages, texts, photos and data are missing from when Farook last uploaded his phone to the iCloud on Oct. 19 through the date of the shootings.

An FBI spokesperson said the agency's goal "was, and still is," to grab as much evidence from the phone as it can to determine why and how the attack occurred. Authorities said Farook. and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire at a holiday party on Dec. 2. The two were killed later the same day.

"The county and the FBI were working together cooperatively to obtain data, and at the point when it became clear the only way to accomplish the task at hand was to reset the iCloud password, the FBI asked the county to do so, and the county complied," David Wert, a spokesman for San Bernardino County, said in an email.

The FBI had previously conducted tests which showed that "direct data extraction" from Apple's mobile devices often yields more data than an iCloud backup, the spokesperson said.

The Justice Department revealed the apparent stumble in a court filing Friday, a case that is part of a much larger battle over whether the government can force Apple to unlock the phone. Farook, a county health worker in San Bernadino, had used the iPhone. It is not clear why the FBI needed to reset the password if it was able to obtain the backed-up data from Apple.

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