FBI Director Suggests Agency Paid Over $1 Million to Unlock San Bernardino iPhone 5c

BY Evan Selleck

Published 21 Apr 2016

image iPhone Stormtrooper security

While the encryption-focused brouhaha between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation isn’t quite over, it’s at least simmered for the time being. And now we may know how much the FBI paid to unlock an iPhone at the center of the issue.

An iPhone 5c was used by one of the shooters at the San Bernardino event last year, and over the last several months the Department of Justice has been trying to access its contents, all in hopes that it would provide some additional information regarding the attack, and perhaps anyone else that might have been linked to it.

During the weeks between then and now, the FBI dragged Apple into a very public debate over encryption, working as hard as it could to force Apple to unlock the iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters. Eventually the FBI would hire “whit hat hackers” to unlock and access the phone, with the assistance from Apple, but what the agency discovered wasn’t particularly helpful.

Now, according to FBI Director James Comey, we have an idea on how much the agency actually paid to get that phone unlocked. While previous reports had suggested the FBI had paid company Cellebrite upwards of $15,000 to unlock the iPhone, the actual number needed to get the job done is much, much higher.

Come says that the agency paid, “A lot, more than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months, for sure.” According to a report from NBC News, that equals more than $1.3 million, based on Comey’s average yearly salary and some math. FBI officials would not respond to the initial report confirming the number, but if Comey wasn’t making a joke, well, it looks like the FBI paid more than $1 million to unlock the iPhone 5c.

While this doesn’t necessarily confirm whether or not Cellebrite had anything to do with unlocking the iPhone 5c, as the $15,000 the agency paid to the company could be part of that number, it does at least articulate that the FBI had to go above and beyond Cellebrite’s capabilities to get the job done.

[via NBC News]