Cybersecurity

San Bernardino iPhone hack cost FBI less than $1 million

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The FBI paid less than $1 million for the tool it used to hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, Reuters reported.

If true, the figure would be considerably less than the $1.3 million estimate FBI Director James Comey recently gave during a speech, when he said the price tag was more than he would make during the rest of his tenure as FBI chief.

{mosads}The FBI will also be able to use the technique — which it purchased from an anonymous outside contractor — on other phones without additional payments. However, the particular tool only works on iPhone 5c models running the iOS 9 operating system, Reuters reported, citing “several U.S. government sources.”

Observers have remained curious about the method the FBI used to unlock the phone, which Syed Rizwan Farook used before he and his wife killed 14 people last December in California. The hack allowed the FBI to drop a court order directing Apple to help open the phone, a request that generated new tensions between the government and Silicon Valley.

But the FBI’s process has remained shrouded in mystery. Comey himself does not know from whom the FBI purchased the method, according to Reuters.

The agency also says it doesn’t fully understand how the technique works and so cannot not tell Apple about the security vulnerability it exploits.

“The FBI purchased the method from an outside party so that we could unlock the San Bernardino device,” Amy Hess, the FBI’s executive assistant director for science and technology, said earlier this week. “We did not, however, purchase the rights to technical details about how the method functions, or the nature and extent of any vulnerability upon which the method may rely in order to operate.”

The tech community had been pressing the government to disclose the flaw, worried that keeping it secret would leave millions of iPhone users at risk to hackers.

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