Russian authorities have reportedly succeeded in unlocking an Apple iPhone owned by the off-duty police officer who shot and killed its ambassador to Turkey at an art show in Ankara last week as investigators look for potential links to terrorism.
Both Russian and Turkish authorities sought the contents of the gunman’s iPhone in the aftermath of the Dec. 19 shooting, but a 4-digit passcode initially prevented the device from being unlocked, according to an article published by MacReports this week.
On Thursday, the website reported that the Russian team had successfully managed to unlocked the device, paving the way for investigators to begin scouring the smartphone for evidence that could potentially explain why Mevlut Mert Altintas shot and killed Ambassador Andrei Karlov during a Dec. 19 art exhibit in the Turkish capital.
Karlov, 62, was giving a speech at the art show week when Altintas, posing as his bodyguard, drew a 9mm pistol and fired several shots, killing the ambassador. Altintas, 22, was fatally shot moments later, but not before shouting: “Do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry has called the incident an act of terrorism.
The website for Pravda, a former propaganda organ of the Soviet Communist Party, reported on Friday that Russian investigators had offered their phone-cracking skills to Turkish authorities after Apple failed to respond to Ankara’s request for assistance — evidence of Apple’s “unwillingness to render assistance,” Pravda reported.
But Apple was never asked for assistance in the first place, the company told the 9to5mac website this week, casting doubts over the Russian outlet’s claim.
Independent attempts to reach Apple for comment were not immediately successful.
If authorities succeeded in unlocking the shooter’s handset as reported, then officials accomplished in days a feat that took months to resolve following a similar incident last year in San Bernardino, California.
In San Bernardino, authorities recovered an iPhone 5s owned by Syed Farook, one-half of the married couple accused of murdering 14 people at a local community center in December 2015. Security mechanisms built in to the device prevented investigators from easily accessing its contents and prompted the Justice Department to sue Apple in federal court for assistance. Authorities eventually sought out the hacking services of an undisclosed third-party several months later at an estimated cost of more than $1.3 million.
“For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an open letter published earlier this year at the height of his company’s legal spat. “We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.”
Unlike Farook’s iPhone 5s, the ambassador’s assassin possessed an older, less secure model at the time of the shooting, and the model was protected by a less sophisticated security mechanism.
Halil Ozturkci, a Turkish digital forensic expert, told the Habertuk news portal on Friday that Russia “is good at cracking passwords” and possesses the technology needed to compromise the security of older iPhones.