According to a report recently published by the Washington Post, there is a possibility that professional hackers may have provided an assist to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in cracking the iPhone 5c unit owned by a terrorist involved in the San Bernardino attack that happened in December of last year.
These professional hackers had apparently brought a particular software flaw previously undiscovered to the FBI’s attention. The feds then took full advantage of that flaw in coming up with a backdoor hack to crack the iPhone unit owned by Syed Farook, without triggering the mobile device’s auto erase functionality. In return for providing the tip, the professional hackers were paid a one time fee by the FBI. As to the specific nature of the flaw, it was not mentioned in the Washington Post report
Three weeks ago, the US Department of Justice had revealed that it has successfully gained access to the information saved in Farook’s iPhone, with the help of a third party. This announcement essentially put a stop (or more accurately, caused a ceasefire) to the FBI’s feud with Apple, who refused to comply with the feds’ request to create a backdoor hack for the iPhone under investigation.
But it appears that the case is still getting some attention, especially now that the tables have turned -- Apple is now going after the FBI, demanding to know how the feds managed to crack the iPhone in question. Having its request getting flatly refused by Apple weeks ago, the FBI is now appearing to give the iPhone maker a taste of its own medicine, and is showing some reluctance in revealing how the hack was accomplished.
Although the Justice Department has not publicly announced the method used or the third party involved, it has shared some pertinent information to members of Congress. There were some reports that cite Cellebrite, an Israel based company that provides data extraction services, as the third party, but this has since gone unconfirmed.
It might be safe to say that the assist that the FBI got came from a hacker community associated with cases the Bureau itself is looking into, such as data theft, Internet hacking, and other security breaches. Still, there are other parties called white hats, which are essentially professional researchers commissioned by tech firms in order to test their software or network. Big names such as Google and Facebook routinely call upon the services of white hats in order to help detect bugs in their respective products and services.
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