The encryption dispute between Apple and the FBI took a rather unexpected turn a couple of weeks ago when the FBI announced that it no longer needed Apple’s help to unlock the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone because a third party had already done so. It was reported that an Israeli company by the name of Cellebrite has assisted the FBI in unlocking the iPhone, but a report from The Washington Post on Tuesday claims that the FBI actually paid professional hackers a one-time fee to unlock it.
The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone with the help of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau at least one previously unknown software flaw, according to people familiar with the matter. The new information was then used to create a piece of hardware that helped the FBI to crack the iPhone’s four-digit personal identification number without triggering a security feature that would have erased all the data, the individuals said. The researchers, who typically keep a low profile, specialize in hunting for vulnerabilities in software and then in some cases selling them to the U.S. government. They were paid a one-time flat fee for the solution. Cracking the four-digit PIN, which the FBI had estimated would take 26 minutes, was not the hard part for the bureau. The challenge from the beginning was disabling a feature on the phone that wipes data stored on the device after 10 incorrect tries at guessing the code. A second feature also steadily increases the time allowed between attempts. The bureau in this case did not need the services of the Israeli firm Cellebrite, as some earlier reports had suggested, people familiar with the matter said.