It's no secret that the police aren't very good at breaking into encrypted iPhones, but they've been asking Apple for help. A lot of help. According to reports by CNET the US government asks for so much help that the "please decrypt this iPhone for me" waiting list is at least seven weeks long.
Law enforcement is getting increasingly fond of performing forensic analysis on mobile devices that were involved in crimes, but pulling it off ain't easy. According to a search warrant affidavit CNET dug up, one agent spent three months last summer "[attempting] to locate a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency with the forensic capabilities to unlock [an iPhone 4s]" before he turned to Apple. But the turnaround was far from zippy and took a couple months.
It's not impossible to brute force into an encrypted iPhone. If the pin is just four or five digits, it can be done in under an hour with specialised tools, but passcodes nine or ten digits long take years. Apple's got a better trick, though. What it is isn't exactly clear, but it's in high demand. Seven weeks is better than nothing, but you can bet that list is only going to keep getting longer unless Apple shares its goodies. [CNET]