FBI doesn’t know how to use iPhone hack it bought for $1mn – report

© Adrees Latif
The FBI spent roughly a million dollars to hack into the encrypted iPhone 5C that belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, but apparently no how-to instructions were included in the deal.

Although the FBI has physical possession of the mechanism that can unlock any encrypted iPhone 5C model featuring iOS 9, the agency doesn’t actually know how to use the method, according to a report from Reuters.

Citing unnamed government sources, Reuters stated that the FBI paid just under $1 million for the ability to crack the iPhone 5C, which is notably less than previously suggested. Last week, FBI Director James Comey said that breaking into the phone cost more than he will get paid over the next seven years on the job – a total that amounted to about $1.3 million based on his annual salary.

While the FBI doesn’t know how the hack mechanism works, the agency will reportedly be able to use it in order to unlock other iPhone 5C models without having to make additional payments to the contractor who sold it to the government. It’s unclear if this is dependent on the bureau eventually learning how the device functions or if the contractor would do the work.

The government has also gone to extreme lengths to keep the contractor’s identity a secret, with a source telling Reuters that even Comey doesn’t know who it is.

Back in March, the Justice Department announced it had successfully broken into Farook’s locked iPhone, dropping its campaign to force Apple into doing so. The FBI argued that Apple was required develop software that could bypass the phone’s security based on an 18th-century law that compels companies to assist government investigations. The FBI won a court order in support of its claim, but Apple resisted, arguing that creating such software would compromise the security of all other iPhones.

Earlier this week, Comey said his agency is still analyzing the security flaw that permitted the iPhone hack, and that it may not tell Apple or the public about it.

“We are in the midst of trying to sort that out,” Comey said. “The threshold [for disclosure] is: are we aware of the vulnerability, or did we just buy a tool and don’t have sufficient knowledge of the vulnerability to implicate the process?”

Comey said the FBI doesn’t anticipate a continued reliance on hacking despite its $1 million purchase. He pointed to the fact that the current hack only works on iPhone 5C models that run iOS 9.

As for Farook’s phone in particular, the FBI’s investigation is ongoing. Authorities are still trying to determine if the device holds valuable information that could help flesh out the timeline of events from the December shooting in San Bernardino, which saw 14 people shot to death and another 22 injured.

The shooting spree is believed to have been planned and carried out by Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, though the FBI is trying to determine whether or not anyone else was involved.