For the time being, Apple’s legal battle with the FBI appears to be on hold. Though the FBI had previously demanded Apple write a completely new version of iOS to bypass built-in security measures, the FBI earlier this week indicated that they may have found a way into the locked iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists without Apple’s help.
The FBI hasn’t officially confirmed it, but it’s become plainly evident that the Bureau has enlisted the help of an Israeli software forensics company called Cellebrite. According to Cellebrite’s website, the company provides forensics solutions that can “give access to and unlock the intelligence of mobile data sources to extend investigative capabilities, accelerate investigations, unify investigative teams and produce solid evidence.” The company further boasts that it employs high-tech methods capable of extracting data from all types of feature phones and smartphones.
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While Apple has long maintained that the FBI never needed Apple’s assistance in order to hack into the terrorist’s locked iPhone, FBI director James Comey vehemently denies this. In fact, Comey articulates that once the FBI’s legal squabbles with Apple became headline news, companies from the private sector began reaching out to them with new ideas, suggestions and tactics.
In any event, it’s only natural to wonder how much the FBI is shelling out for an iPhone hack that will let them access the data tucked away in a locked iPhone. While you might assume that such information is a well-kept secret, the FBI, being a federal agency and all, can’t keep everything it does hidden away.
Diving deeper, the contract appears to be for work set to be conducted in Chicago, a tidbit which has led some to believe that the screenshot below is for other forensics work. Still it seems like a crazy coincidence that the FBI would sign a contract with Cellebrite for wholly unrelated technical work just one day after it revealed it may have found a way, without Apple’s help, into the terrorist’s locked iPhone. Also
It’s also worth noting that Cellebrite’s website specifically mentions that they possess the “unique capability” to unlock iOS devices running iOS 8.x “in a forensically sound manner and without any hardware intervention or risk of device wipe.” Interestingly, the company hasn’t mentioned if their methods work on iOS 9, which was what Syed Farook had installed on his iPhone 5c.