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April 1, 2016
The Apple/FBI saga came to an early conclusion this week thanks in part to the help of Israeli mobile forensics company Cellebrite, according to numerous reports.
Bloomberg is citing anonymous sources for confirmation of the collaboration, which was first suggested by Ynetnews last week. Cellebrite declined to comment when approached by Telecoms.com, but an AFP report indicates Cellebrite has openly claimed it can crack Apple devices and even offered to help a man who had asked Apple to help him access photos on his deceased son’s iPhone.
The FBI had been pressuring Apple to assist it in unlocking the iPhone belonging to a perpetrator of the San Bernardino attacks, on the grounds that it may contain useful evidence. Apple CEO Tim Cook was moved to write a public letter in which he stated his company’s resistance to the FBI request, outwardly focusing on the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument, but presumably also worrying about enduring damage to the Apple brand.
The matter was scheduled to go to court soon but earlier this week the FBI dropped its case on the grounds that it had managed to crack the iPhone anyway, with the help of a then-unnamed third party.
This option was, of course, always available to the FBI, which has apparently been working with Cellebrite for years. A growing consensus has been formed that the case was less about this specific phone than about setting the precedent for US security services to be able to gain access to any iPhone whenever they want. This is certainly the few of security guru John McAfee, who said as much to Forbes.
So it seems fair to assume that this represents an orderly retreat by the FBI, which was presumably concerned it would lose the legal action, which in turn would draw a line in the sand regarding state cracking of private devices. Revealing the Cellebrite hack allows the FBI to claim victory in its immediate objective while allowing it to resurrect the case sometime in the future, when it’s potentially in a stronger position.
As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno
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