FBI paid more than $1 million to crack San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, FBI Director says ‘worth it’
The FBI paid more than $1.3 million dollars for a hacking tool that allowed it to break into the iPhone 5 used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, agency director James Comey said Thursday.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in London, Comey was asked by a moderator how much the FBI paid for the software that eventually broke into the iPhone.
Comey said, “A lot. More than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months, for sure. But it was, in my view, worth it?…?I think it was very, very important that we got into that device.”
However, he also added that an accommodation needed to be made with Apple and other technology companies in the future, as paying outside technologists to figure out methods to access highly-encrypted messages on phones used by terrorist suspects was not “scalable.”
The FBI director makes an estimated $183,000 per year — so Comey stands to earn at least $1.35 million in the remainder of his job, which is 7 years and 4 months. Comey’s comments, therefore, suggest that the FBI paid more than that for the tool.
The agency declined to confirm or deny Thursday whether the bureau had in fact paid at least $1.3 million for the hacking, and it refused to elaborate on Comey’s suggestive remarks.
In February, the Justice Department took legal action against Apple in an attempt to force the company to create software that would help the FBI break the passcode of the iPhone used by one of the terrorists’ in December’s shootings in San Bernardino, California.
Apple fought the order, saying it would create a “back door” that would affect the privacy of all iPhone users. The Justice Department said in March it had unlocked the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone with the help of an unidentified third party and dropped its case against Apple ending a high-stakes legal clash but leaving the broader fight over encryption unresolved.
Comey said: “We were able to get into the phone because, in an odd way, all the controversy around the litigation stimulated a marketplace around the world?…?for people trying to figure out if they could they break into Apple 5C running iOS9 — and those details matter because that’s the phone that the terrorists left behind.”
He added that: “Somebody approached from outside the government [with a solution]. We tested it and tested it, then we purchased it.”
FBI had previously indicated that agency paid a substantial fee for the assistance, but had declined to provide a specific amount or estimate. The FBI has also refused to disclose the identity of the outside party that provided the assistance. However, recent reports suggest it was a group of hackers who were aware of a flaw in the device and found a way to take advantage of it to unlock the device.
According to estimates from research firm IHS Technology, there are about 16 million 5C iPhones in use in the United States. Eighty-four percent of iOS devices overall are running iOS 9 software, according to Apple.