The bureau’s director, James Comey, said the hacking method works only for the the iPhone 5C, running version 9 of Apple’s mobile operating system, not on newer or older models.
Comey said the FBI has not decided whether they will tell Apple how they hacked into the phone.
“We’re having discussions within the government about, ‘OK, so should we tell Apple what the flaw is that was found?'” said Comey.
“If we tell Apple, then they’re going to fix it and we’re back where we started from,” he continued.
The comments come after Apple refused to help authorities unlock an iPhone that belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The agency and the Cupertino-based company were in a legal dispute over the matter until U.S. authorities said they did not need Apple’s help to unlock it.
A senior law enforcement official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that authorities were able to defeat an Apple security feature that threatened to delete the contents in the phone if the FBI failed to enter the correct passcode combination after 10 guesses.
That allowed officials to repeatedly and continuously test passcodes, known as a brute-force attack, until the right code was entered.
The feds found a third party to hack into the phone. Although the government has not admitted who helped crack the iPhone, it is believed that Israeli mobile forensics firm, Cellebrite, helped U.S. authorities.
“The FBI is very good at keeping secrets, and the people we bought this from—I know a fair amount about them, and I have a high degree of confidence that they’re very good at protecting it, and their motivations align with ours,” Comey said.
Meanwhile, the legal dispute between the FBI and Apple had sparked a debate on digital privacy rights.
“There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America,” said Comey at the university.
“There is no place outside the reach of judicial authority,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.