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Did 'Grey Hats' Assist the FBI Crack the San Bernardino iPhone 5c?

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Report Updated April 18, 2016

 

The long standing rumor was that Cellebrite was the FBI's source in cracking the San Bernardino iPhone 5c. The dilemma that the FBI has is that they may have to reveal their source and method to Apple. The closest thing to actual proof that Cellebrite was contracted for the job with the FBI was a posting online on April 6th. Of course Apple could always question the FBI about the noted contract with Cellebrite, but the latest rumor is that the FBI ended up using "professional hackers" to get the job done.

 

According to the Washington Post, these professional hackers approached the FBI with their discovery of a software flaw that allowed the FBI to then create a piece of hardware that eventually was used to crack the iPhone's four-digit PIN without triggering a security feature in the iPhone that erases the data after so many unsuccessful attempts at unlocking the iPhone.

 

The professional hackers or "gray hats" can be controversial. Critics say that they might be helping governments spy on their own citizens. Their tools, however, might also be used to track terrorists or hack an adversary spying on the United States. These researchers do not disclose the flaws to the companies responsible for the software, as the exploits' value depends on the software remaining vulnerable.

 

We covered such controversial groups in a recent report titled "Cyber Weapons Dealer Offers $1MN for Tools to Hack iPhone." The company highlighted was Zerodium. Whether they were used in this case is unknown at this time. For more on this current report, see the full Washington Post story here.

 

At the end of the day, there's really no proof that "professional hackers" or "grey hats" were used to assist in the unlocking of the iPhone 5c save for the slim account of the Washington Post's mysterious "people familiar with the matter." So until the FBI coughs up this news of the source directly in a press release or comment by FBI director Comey, the identity of those assisting the FBI in this case is still in question. To date, the FBI's published online contract with Cellebrite appears to be the most concrete evidence on this matter thus far.     

 

Update April 18, 2016, 11:23 a.m. MST: 

 

Forbes Report: John McAfee: 'Professional Hackers Did Not Unlock The Shooter's iPhone, Cellebrite Helped The FBI' 

 

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