by David Kravets
News comes after FBI withdrew demands for Apple to help unlock seized iPhone.Screenshot from Cellebrite home page.
The mobile forensics firm Cellebrite of Israel is reportedly assisting the Federal Bureau of Investigation in unlocking a seized iPhone that has become the center of a legal dispute between the bureau and Apple, the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday.
The revelation comes two days after the US government tentatively withdrew its demands that Apple write code and assist the authorities to unlock a seized iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino County shooters. The FBI told a federal judge Monday that an “outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking (Syed) Farook’s iPhone.” A federal magistrate then tentatively stayed her order demanding that Apple assist the authorities in unlocking the phone.
That same day, according to public records, the FBI committed to a $15,278 “action obligation” with Cellebrite. An “action obligation” is the lowest amount the government has agreed to pay. No other details of the contract were available, and the Justice Department declined comment. Cellebrite, however, has reportedly assisted US authorities in accessing an iPhone.
For now, US-based security experts believe that Cellebrite does have the wherewithal to perform the task.
“I’m really not at liberty to confirm the third party, but based on the techniques I’ve described in my blog on the subject, I think Cellebrite, as well as many large forensics firms like it, have the capability to perform such tasks,” forensic scientist Jonathan Zdziarski told Ars in an e-mail. “DriveSavers, for example, has released statements yesterday suggesting they’re almost there. I think the techniques are pretty straight forward for firms like these now that the tech community has had a chance to comment.”
Yedioth Ahronoth did not name its sources. Cellebrite, founded in 1999, is a subsidiary of Sun Corp. of Japan. The company did not immediately return messages seeking comment.