Earlier this week, Reuters reported that FBI has hired an Israeli firm called Cellebrite to hack into the iPhone 5c of the San Bernardino shooter. Now, a freelance technology journalist and surveillance researcher, Joshua Kopstein, has spotted a contract between Cellebrite and FBI for about a $15,278.
FBI signed a contract with iPhone-cracking firm Cellebrite the day it told the court it found an "outside party" pic.twitter.com/LoN9Wm3cCQ
— ᴢᴇɴ ᴀʟʙᴀᴛʀᴏss (@zenalbatross) March 23, 2016
The contract appears to be for work set to be conducted in Chicago, which has led some to believe that the screenshot below is for other forensics work. While this may look like a coincidence, it is unlikely for FBI to sign a contract with Cellebrite for wholly unrelated technical work. Records also show that contract with Cellebrite for forensics work was signed on March 21, just a day before the FBI vs. Apple’s hearing was scheduled. If you are following the Apple vs FBI case, you will know that FBI has said that they may have found a way into the locked iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists without Apple’s help and asked the court to postpone the hearing for two weeks.
FBI – Cellebrite Contract
Although FBI has not officially confirmed it, it has 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”. In the website, they also specifically mention 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”.
Overcoming complex mobile device locks to recover more data, faster – Specialized services such as the Cellebrite CAIS U01 service offer global law enforcement agencies a breakthrough ability to unlock Apple devices running iOS 8.x., in a forensically sound manner and without any hardware intervention or risk of device wipe.
Previously, Apple has made their stand for privacy and refused to give into FBI’s demand of writing a completely new version of iOS to bypass built-in security measures in their iPhone. In fact the company has stated that FBI never needed Apple’s assistance to hack into the terrorist locked iPhone and FBI has various other means to do it themselves. Nevertheless, FBI director James Comey vehemently denies this, and claims 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.
While we are not sure whether the Cellebrite is able to unlock Farook’s iPhone 5c, we know that if the company succeeds in hacking the iPhone, it will allow other government agencies to unlock other iPhones that they have in their custody. It will also put some pressure on Apple as it proves that iPhone is no longer a secure device.