Apple's monthlong legal odyssey is now officially suspended, after a magistrate judge approved the FBI's request for continuation earlier this afternoon, staying the court order placed on Apple more than a month ago. The FBI now has until April 5th to test a method that the bureau says could potentially unlock the phone without Apple's assistance. If that method is successful, the motion to compel Apple's help and build a security-breaking "GovtOS" system would be dropped, ending a monthlong legal standoff between Apple and the Department of Justice.
The motion came less than 24 hours before a scheduled hearing in the trial, which would have seen a number of Apple executives cross-examined before the court. Until now, the government had insisted that Apple's assistance was the only possible method for unlocking the phone, but according to the filing, an outside party demonstrated the new method on Sunday, motivating the last-minute change of plans.
The result is likely to be the end of this chapter of Apple's encryption fight. It's still possible the new method won't pan out or another case will lead to a similar fight, but the most likely result is an effective cease fire in the increasingly bitter conflict between Apple and law enforcement. It's also a reminder that, while iOS's encryption measures were enough to stymy the FBI's investigators for a few months, no system is without flaws. Earlier today, researchers reported a vulnerability in Apple's iMessage which allows attackers to expose photos and other media sent through the service. The vulnerability is expected to be fixed in iOS 9.3.