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FBI paying Cellebrite $15,278 to open Syed Farook's Apple iPhone 5c?

Posted: , by Alan F.


FBI paying Cellebrite $15,278 to open Syed Farook's Apple iPhone 5c?
Just the other day, on the eve of what promised to be a three-ring circus inside a courtroom, the DOJ asked a judge to cancel a hearing scheduled between Apple and the DOJ. The government was trying to force Apple to develop a unique OS that would be used to unlock the Apple iPhone 5c used by deceased terrorist Syed Farook. The government hopes that the phone contains clues to the attack carried out by Farook and his wife that left 14 dead. 

Apple's concern is that in building this so-called Govt.OS, someone will discover the code which would allow them to break into any iPhone in the world. If this were to occur, no longer would iPhone users feel secure about leaving personal information inside their phone. While Apple has been stonewalling Uncle Sam, the FBI has been looking for other ways to open up the terrorist's iPhone.

On Monday, the feds hit pay dirt. The FBI announced that it had found a third party to unlock Farook's phone. Who was this unnamed hacker who could do something that Apple said couldn't be done? According to Reuters, Israeli company Cellebrite is working with the FBI to open Farook's phone. You might recall that many carriers used to use a Cellebrite machine to move a user's phone contacts over from an old phone to a newly purchased one.

Another piece of information apparently confirms that the FBI is counting on Cellebrite to unlock Farook's iPhone 5c Twitter user Zen Albatross has discovered that the FBI signed a contract on Monday with the Israeli firm. Considering that Monday was the day that the FBI proclaimed that it had a third party that could break into Farook's iPhone 5c, it seems more than a coincidence that Cellebrite signed a contract with the FBI on the very same day.

So how much is the FBI paying Cellebrite to open a terrorist's iPhone? According to published information about the contract, the FBI is paying the company $15,278 to do the job.

Cellebrite's own website notes that it has the "unique capability" to unlock devices running iOS 8.x "in a forensically sound manner and without any hardware intervention or risk of device wipe." While that sounds like good news for the FBI, Farook's phone is powered by iOS 9. Still, there isn't any indication that the mobile forensics firm can't unlock iPhone models running that build.

Cellebrite signed a contract with the FBI on Monday

Cellebrite signed a contract with the FBI on Monday

source: @zenalbatross via Reuters

  • Options

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 16:43 2

1. TheMan (Posts: 490; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)


So, (I'm guessing) $1 million in legal fees down the drain...

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 16:46

3. kajam (Posts: 203; Member since: 24 Jun 2015)


posted on 24 Mar 2016, 19:48

29. ph00ny (Posts: 1200; Member since: 26 May 2011)

I've used their older devices and they're actually pretty cool. I remember using it on blackberry and ended up recovering 4k deleted text messages

posted on 26 Mar 2016, 00:29 1

43. TheHitman1982 (Posts: 68; Member since: 30 Dec 2014)

If this happens and do actually break into the phone Apple should sue the FBI and Cellebrite for violating their terms of service.

posted on 26 Mar 2016, 10:33

44. KRONeage (Posts: 142; Member since: 17 Apr 2011)

Dude? lol.... Are you for REAL??? ahahaha... I know Apple fans are usually religiously addicted Apple always being right and the fact they think that DoJ are criminals for prosecuting their God Almighty Corporate Dictatorship, for the illegal government monitoring of their Price Fixing Corporate Criminal eBooks Scandal. You people seem to think Apple can do no wrong!

Get real.... they are conducting an investigation of a Terrorist Attack, where many Americans lost their lives. Now you seem to not be supporting either Apple unlocking or disabling elementary security features or Law Enforcement should be branded and prosecuted for getting the phone unlocked??? Are iDiot Nuts For REAL???

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 16:46 5

2. DmitrLP (Posts: 292; Member since: 18 Sep 2015)

There goes $15,000 of taxpayers money, and this in funding hackers. Way to go FBI.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:08 3

6. Adreno (banned) (Posts: 755; Member since: 12 Mar 2016)

Because the FBI can't get into that iPhone 5c using legal or legitimate methods.

So they've only got to hire a hacker to get into the iPhone using illegitimate methods. Well, "hack".

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:15 5

8. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

That is making the assumption that this is illegal.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 20:13 6

31. lyndon420 (Posts: 3996; Member since: 11 Jul 2012)

It would be better to assume that this whole thing is just a primer to get the public's attention before they attempt to sway public opinion again. Let's focus on what common sense is trying to tell us...there is nothing of value on the iPhone they're trying to hack. Why would there be? To pull off attacks like these must take alot of careful planning to ensure it succeeds. This iPhone was a 'work' phone, and apparently they found his 'personal' phone destroyed which gives the impression that efforts were made to cover up any incriminating communication. These people are not stupid...they know that our internet and phones are heavily monitored whether it's an email, text message, browser search, cellphone call or landline call. Pre-paid (burner) phones like the ones at 7-11 have have been around for years which can't be monitored or tracked the same way. Pretty sure terrorists are not new to the idea of burner throw-away phones...just saying.

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 00:52

35. Adreno (banned) (Posts: 755; Member since: 12 Mar 2016)


Just saying...

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:23

10. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

That's not how laws work...

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:33

12. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

Alright, inform me on all the nuance of law around how the FBI is allowed to extract information from electronic devices, or what is and is not acceptable for them during the course of an investigation. What services they are allowed to use, and whether or not they are allowed to use third parties to come to those means to breach security.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:41 1

14. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

Why don't I inform you on all the nuances of the phonearena comments section instead so you know when someone is talking to you or not?
Lesson number 1: when you reply to a post it will simply show up under the original post.
Lesson number 2: When you reply to a reply to an original post it'll show the reply you replied to under your reply.
Was that to complicated or did you get it? Or did you just feel like talking to me? I get it, I'm an awesome person.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:29

24. d2kplus (Posts: 6; Member since: 08 Nov 2014)

Phone is owned by the City of San Bernardino, which gave The FBI permission to access the phone's data. Apple would not agree to compromise their encryption routines, but the government claims to have found a process to circumvent the encryption. Other than none of this should have been public, what's your objection?

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:37

26. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

I didn't have an objection. I asked about what law currently says about what measures they are allowed to take to circumvent electronic security measures during an investigation. I would presume, especially in the case of express permission; they are allowed to take whatever steps they deem necessary, but I don't know that for sure. Nor do I know the limitations placed upon their operational procedures.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 19:42

28. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

IOS, the focus of all of this mess, is closed source proprietary software. The city of San Bernardino most definitely does NOT own it. Apple does. It is in the terms of use license agreement you all e-sign when using it. And before you all come at me with "there's laws to carrier unlock..."".. say I can root my phone.." etc. Please be aware that those are only under specific exemptions and none of that means you own the iOS. Apple's EULA clearly states, as does Microsoft's, that the software is licensed not sold. And the EULA is not negotiable. Google is open source and they allow for rooting their software. They even provide source codes to kernels and os. Apple is not and does not. If the government, or private company to be more accurate, has found a way around the encryption without meddling with apples source code or other digital rights than more power to them an apple will thank them for showing them what to work on for the next iOS security upgrade. But if they publicly outright "pick the lock" and you think apple won't go after them then you must really not be familiar with Apple. At all.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 21:03 1

33. djcody (Posts: 100; Member since: 17 Apr 2013)

Very simple, person who committed crime and use any item for it after catch/recovery from crime scene etc are under law jurisdiction, because it was terrorist act landed under FBI power

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:39

13. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

And while you're at it, explain to me whether or not those entities have to be us-based individuals or companies or not.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:51 1

17. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

Well, Terry, since you insist on wanting to talk with me I'll make it simple for you. Hiring someone, us-based or not, to do something illegal for you is, in fact, just as illegal as doing it yourself. Now whether or not this whole situation of getting into the phone without apples authority is legal or not that may be up to the courts to decide if Apple decides to sue. But the claim of the original post, the one I replied to, that implies the FBI can hire other people to do illegal things for them and be in the clear is, simply put, idiotic. It's like saying I can pay someone to beat up my annoying neighbor and my hands would be clean. Again: That's not how laws work..

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:58

19. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

I do insist. I'm aware you weren't talking to me, I was however talking to you because you may know. I was under the impression that anyone being able to talk to anyone else is the very point of a comment section, if that offended you then I apologize.

I was under the impression that we were under agreement, that he was making the assumption that whatever the FBI was doing was illegal. Which as you noted, is a bit of an idiotic Thing 2 claim. Although granted, historically the FBI has done a ton of illegal s***. That being said, they wouldn't be this public about it , and I agree with you. I'm ignorant of the basis by which they are allowed to operate in situations like these. Hence I solicited an answer from you.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:11

21. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

Well I'm sorry to dissapoint. I do not know whether this is legal or not. All I know is that IF it is illegal and you pay someone to break the law for you, and as you said, be this public about it, then it makes you just as guilty. Which is why I informed the original poster that that's not how laws work. Again, sorry if that gave off the impression that I'm a software intellectual property lawyer dude. I'm not. But certain things you just have to know are illegal by the time you're an adult. Murdering, robberies, assault, hiring people to do illegal things for you, you know... Just common sense for an adult. Or should be at the very least... I mean really, "I'm sorry your honor I didn't know I couldn't hire this guy to steal that car for me" just isn't going to fly in a court of law

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:21

22. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

In an ideal world, you are completely correct. But it is kind of disturbing how many individuals lack basic critical thinking skills. I'm not sure if that's a failure of our educational system or if that is born from going with gut reactions rather than logic do today anonymity provided by the internet. But yes, I totally agree with you.

Isn't that basically the argument that rich kid made for having "affluenza"? Really different context, but basically he said he didn't know right from wrong because he had been rich his entire life... And he won. Most likely because of his family's money, but still.

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 01:03

36. Adreno (banned) (Posts: 755; Member since: 12 Mar 2016)

"But it is kind of disturbing how many individuals lack basic
critical thinking skils"

WTF @TerryTerius

WTF!! I wasn't serious at all. Just being sarcastic.

Now get off my back about it!

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:23

23. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

My bad for the typos, I'm voice typing on mobile and I can't ninja edit -_-

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:00 1

20. TerryTerius (Posts: 1596; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)

If that upsets you, well nevermind then and I can ask someone else or Google the information and stop being lazy. But I thought you may know.

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 00:49

34. Adreno (banned) (Posts: 755; Member since: 12 Mar 2016)


My point about FBI hiring some to do it through the illegal way was just an assumption.

Does't goverments also do corrupt stuffs? Commiting something unlawful and getting away with it.

Abuse of power is common everywhere.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:50 2

16. Subie (Posts: 545; Member since: 01 Aug 2015)

Their legal fees fighting Apple would have cost the taxpayers a lot more then $15,000. And Cellebrite is a legitimate tech company. Look them up.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 19:50 1

30. ph00ny (Posts: 1200; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Um cellebrite is a mobile device forensics company not some random hacker

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 12:56

39. TechieXP1969 (Posts: 8958; Member since: 25 Sep 2013)

That's nothing compared to the money they wasted trying to get Apple to do it. You will never know that number and I assure you its bigger than $15,000.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 16:53 1

4. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

No way. Phonearena users were all over here claiming the government had the best hackers in the world working for measly government pay. So why would the FBI pay an Israeli company $15k to do something their top of the line hackers can do? This doesn't make any sense...

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 16:57 1

5. xondk (Posts: 1250; Member since: 25 Mar 2014)

I don't think its that simple, you'd think FBI 'would' have the best people they could have, yet apparently they don't? and apparently they say things left right and center when it comes to technology that makes little sense in terms of security? so yeah......

Maybe they should hire people that actually know what they are doing instead of those they currently have?

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:28 1

11. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

They can't afford to hire the best. That's what I've been trying to explain to all these people who believe their TV shows are accurate representations. The post you replied to was obvious sarcasm. The government does NOT have the top software people. They have the rejects who couldn't get a high paying job at a major tech company. They don't have better programmes/coders/developers than Apple, google, Samsung, etc. and they probably never will. No one is THAT patriotic to turn down 6 figures for $50k a year to work for the government...

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:48 1

15. xondk (Posts: 1250; Member since: 25 Mar 2014)

You would think they would pay people better then, I mean with as much money as the US uses on military and intelligence....yeah..

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:55

18. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

I have zero intention of getting into the military budget argument with anyone online because, for whatever reason, people just absolutely refuse to understand. No matter how much in detail it is explained to them. They either just don't care, just like to argue, or honestly just can't grasp what's being explained.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:47

27. xondk (Posts: 1250; Member since: 25 Mar 2014)

Oh it isn't so much the budget argument, or wanting to argue, it is more that I wonder what the heck 4%+ of GDP on military and such is actually used for, if part of it isn't going to secure people with a good enough pay.
(GDP % might have fallen? to below 4?)
Kinda like here in Denmark they need to 'move' some government jobs, but said move costs apparently 100 million?!?! dkk.

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 13:11

41. TechieXP1969 (Posts: 8958; Member since: 25 Sep 2013)

Yeah, because arguing how much the USA wastes on military isn't even worth the time an effort because such an argument would be full of flawed variables.

The facts show the USA military is so big, that if you combine all the other countries in the world's military into one, it would still be smaller than all of the ones here combined for the USA.

As far as how much that cost? The government spends more than 60% of the tax money they collect which solely goes to military spending.
In fact, while the last Bush was in office, he tried to increase the military budget which they were even asking for and they didnt even accept.

And more facts prove, the USA will waste Trillions on a military option that even after 10 years still doesn't work, but wouldnt even give $99M to save people who were on long term unemployment for jobs they lose do to the Government in the first place.

Example? The original bid for the F16 I think it was, I can specifically remember the plane, but it was suppose to be the next advanced aircraft in the F family. The whole bid was suppose to cost $5Trillion over a length of 10 years which was suppose to include several finished aircraft. Already they have spent over S1.5Trillion and have only 3 working planes and all 3 have serious issues. In fact I believe it was reported that one pilot literally flew one of them apart.

Also another fact. One guy drove his car past a military graveyard and found that roughly 40% of the aircraft was usable or had parts that could have been used on other planes and are simply just sitting them rusting in the hot sun.

Yea no sense in arguing about the waste an abuse of funds of the only arm of the US Governement that isn't audited by the IRS.

yeah, lots of true to the $50,000 hammer jokes. It actually does happen and more than many are willing to even admit too. Oh and I know this as fact and I've never ben in the military.

Here is my proof -http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/02/18/DOD-Stuck-Flawed-15-Trillion-Fighter-Jet
Oh it was the F-35 to be specific. I knew it was the F-Familiy of jets. READ AND SEE THE FACTS.

Oh and it was suppose to cost $400B for 2400 plane and they have basically not one working one....well one that works correctly. WASTE.

At what point do you say, we spent enough lets stop wasting money. But yet its more like, well we've already waste $1.5trillion, lets keep going; eventually we will get it right.

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 13:28

42. xondk (Posts: 1250; Member since: 25 Mar 2014)

Very nicely put, and that is my point, and for that matter US isn't alone, it is just right now the biggest in this matter, a ton of countries that do it, and it then just boggles my mind when you hear stories like this where suing and threatening legal action to get an iphone unlocked...mind boggling.
But again it wasn't meant to 'argue' it more as going "come on, get your stuff together guys." towards the FBI.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 20:50

32. ilani (Posts: 90; Member since: 23 Dec 2011)

Nicely put!

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 08:31

38. natypes (Posts: 1081; Member since: 02 Feb 2015)

$50k a year is quite a bit short there bud. Trust me ;)

I'm not saying private tech companies do not pay more, they certainly do, but the gap isn't that grotesque.

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 12:58

40. TechieXP1969 (Posts: 8958; Member since: 25 Sep 2013)

Having the best people "you can have" doesn't mean those peopel can do this task.

You're trying to put things together that don't go together.

Just because you can have one of the worlds best hackers, doesn't mean they can hack everything.

McAfee said he would do it for free, so the FBI must think they will get better results for $15K vs free. lol.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:11

7. Adreno (banned) (Posts: 755; Member since: 12 Mar 2016)

The goverment indeed has the best hackers, but they can't get into that iPhone without getting their hands dirty. I mean, violating the very same law they're supposed to enforce and obey.

So they find a 3rd party hacker to get them what they want, while keeping their hands clean...

Or am I wrong?

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 17:23

9. izim1 (Posts: 453; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

You're wrong. If it's illegal to do, it's illegal to hire someone to do it for you.

posted on 24 Mar 2016, 18:36 2

25. oozz009 (Posts: 517; Member since: 22 Jun 2015)

Who knows? Maybe it's Apple who paid this amount annomisly as part of a behind the scenes deal with the government themselves. That would at least explain why the court for Tuesday was dropped in last minute.

posted on 25 Mar 2016, 04:53 1

37. MrElectrifyer (Posts: 2375; Member since: 21 Oct 2014)

Wouldn't be the first time an organization has disguised it's name to do something off the radar...take for example ISIS, that stood for Israel Secret Intelligence Service (a.k.a. Mossad):


Speaking of which, could this be of some means to legitimize sending money to Israel for whatever bigger reason?

posted on 27 Mar 2016, 01:50

45. egyptian3030 (Posts: 18; Member since: 21 Nov 2015)

Be happy FBI, an Israeli Company will help you to hack others phones\security as they are doing daily in Palestine.

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