The iPhone 5c owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters from the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack, became a focal point for the privacy vs security debate last year. Apple’s refusal to build a backdoor that circumvented the handset’s security features led to the FBI purchasing software that did the job, but we never knew exactly how much it paid - until now.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein inadvertently revealed that the FBI paid a third party $900,000 to access the handset.
“I was so struck when San Bernardino happened and you made overtures to allow that device to be opened, and then the FBI had to spend $900,000 to hack it open,” Feinstein said at the hearing. “And as I subsequently learned of some of the reason for it, there were good reasons to get into that device.”
In April last year, FBI Director James Comey said the amount the agency paid was “more than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months for sure.” Based on his $183,000 annual salary, Reuters calculated the total cost to be over $1.3 million.
While the true price has now been exposed, it’s still unclear who the feds paid to crack the phone. Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite is one suspect, though some believe it was a team of professional gray hat hackers. Details of the hack itself are also unknown, with some reports claiming the FBI will be able to use it again in the future.