Home Technology FBI paid $900000 to unlock San Bernardino attackers iPhone 5C, senator confirms

FBI paid $900000 to unlock San Bernardino attackers iPhone 5C, senator confirms

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San Bernardino / Iphone 5c
Photo by Sean MacEntee

In 2016, Apple had a battle with the FBI over privacy, specifically whether it would crack an iPhone 5C following the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Apple refused to specifically create a backdoor piece of software that would circumvent the security protections built into iOS, citing concerns for the privacy of the other millions of people out there using iPhones and iPads. The FBI purchased software to crack the iPhone in question. The agency refused to disclose how much it spent to get the software, but now Senator Dianne Feinstein has revealed that it cost $900,000 to break into the shooter’s phone.

That’s less than the $1.3 million that was estimated before, though that estimate was a rough calculation based on a statement from FBI director James Comey at that time. He said that the cost to the FBI was greater than what he’d make in the seven years and four months leading up to his retirement. Reuters did the math based on his salary, but it looks like the figure wasn’t quite accurate.

Senator Feinstein noted the $900,000 figure this past Wednesday while questioning Comey at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. “I was so struck when San Bernardino happened and you made overtures to allow that device to be opened, and then the FBI had to spend $900,000 to hack it open,” Feinstein said as reported by the AP. She would know this, she’s the top the Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the FBI.

The AP and other news organizations last year filed a public records lawsuit to learn how much the FBI paid. The Justice Department has said in court filings that the information was properly classified. It argued that the information it withheld, if released, could be seized upon by “hostile entities” that could develop their own countermeasures and interfere with the FBI’s intelligence gathering.

Until this statement, the FBI had refused to disclose either how much it spent to break into the San Bernardino iPhone; it also has protected the identity of the individual or company that broke into the phone. The agency has said both of those pieces of information are classified.

On March 28, 2016, the Department of Justice announced that it had unlocked the iPhone and withdrew its suit. Initial reports, citing anonymous sources, stated that Israeli company Cellebrite was assisting the FBI with this alternative. However, The Washington Post later reported that, according to anonymous “people familiar with the matter”, the FBI instead paid “professional hackers” who used a zero-day vulnerability in the iPhone’s  iOS software to bypass its ten-try unlock code limitation, and did not need Celebrite’s assistance.

The San Bernardino terrorist attack

On December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 others were seriously injured in a terrorist attack consisting of a mass shooting and an attempted bombing at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The perpetrators, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple living in the city of Redlands, targeted a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health training event and Christmas party of about 80 employees in a rented banquet room. Farook was a US-born citizen of Pakistani descent, who worked as a health department employee. Malik was a Pakistani-born lawful permanent resident of the United States.

After the shooting, the couple fled in a rented sport utility vehicle (SUV). Four hours later, police pursued their vehicle and killed them in a shootout.

Source: CNBC / EnGadget / Wikipedia

Photo by Sean MacEntee