The FBI signed a $15,000 contract with Israeli-tech firm Cellebrite to crack the iPhone 5c at the heart of the San Bernardino shooting investigation. However, according to a new report, Cellebrite may not have been the ones who successfully hacked the smartphone, after all.
Instead, the Feds reportedly broke into the iPhone 5c with the aid of a group of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau a previously unknown iOS flaw — letting them get around the iPhone’s four-digit pincode feature, without accidentally erasing the iPhone’s data in the process.
In the words of the Washington Post:
“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.”
Exactly who helped the FBI crack the iPhone 5c isn’t revealed by the article, although it is noted that “at least one” of the team is known for selling flaws to governments and companies who make surveillance tools.
Regardless of whether the hackers are Cellebrite or… these guys, however, the fact remains that the current hacking solution only works for an iPhone 5c running iOS 9.
FBI director James Comey has admitted that this represents a “narrow slice” of iPhones, although that slice could get even smaller if — and when — Apple discovers the vulnerability and is able to plug it.