Game of Phones: Apple/FBI hack Update

Apple’s standoff with the FBI ended abruptly after it announced the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters was hacked without the tech giant’s help.  So, who helped?

The government has successfully accessed data stored on one of the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhones – and now say they do not require help from Apple any further.  The announcement ends what was sure to have been a consequential legal showdown regarding government influence compelling companies to participate in investigations.  But, who cracked it? And, what does this mean for future issues?

In an attempt to get some answers, I reached out to, John McAfee, the famed anit-virus guru, computer programmer, businessman, (and 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate!) who was one of the voices offering assistance to the FBI regarding the iPhone hack.  When I asked about his involvement, he assured me that it was not him the FBI chose to use. Instead, he suggested I look into a company called,CELLEBRITE, a subsidiary of Japan’s Sun Corp.  Cellebrite’s website describes themselves as “a global company known for its breakthroughs in mobile data technology, delivering comprehensive solutions for mobile forensics and mobile lifecycle management.”

Before the case had been dropped by the FBI, Reuters, via the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth,reported that it had learned the identity of the company assisting with the hack. According to the report, mobile forensic software and solutions provider, Cellebrite, was indeed the company in question.

McAffe went on to tell me he believed that the FBI already had means to break into the phone from the beginning, and simply wanted to use a terrorist act to get public approval – a notion security advocates have been speculating over as well.  “The FBI already had the capability to hack this phone using forensic tools,” Evan Greer, campaign director of the open Internet advocacy group, Fight for the Future, said in a statement.  “But they thought this case would be a slam dunk––a way for them to set a dangerous precedent that they’ve wanted for years.”

U.S. Attorney, Eileen Decker, said in a statement to multiple outlets that, the “decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone without compromising any information on the phone.”

Whether the FBI genuinely thought Apple was their best hope, or they actually had the capability all along, is not known. Neither is certain who the third party is.  But, the case has had implications far beyond just one iPhone, and will continue to be a lightning rod for broader debate regarding privacy in the United States.  One thing is certain: this is just the beginning.

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