TECH TUESDAY: Senator says FBI paid $900K for iPhone hacking tool



As we have seen in recent news, our government is trying to walk that fine line between protecting our privacy alongside protecting our welfare against terrorist attacks. When investigators came across a secured iPhone, the issue of wondering when it is “ethical” to hack into an iPhone to discover potential evidence came to light. The debate still continues to present day.

The question does present itself: How far would you go to hack into an iPhone? Would you drop a million dollars to crack into a smartphone? Would a million dollars be a bridge too far?

According to a recent story, the government is willing to go that far (almost!), paying $900,000 for a reliable, trustworthy iPhone hacking tool.

LAS VEGAS, NV - August 26,2016: iPhone Lock ScreenDianne Feinstein, top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the FBI, revealed that the government paid $900,000 to break into the locked iPhone discovered in the San Bernadino investigation. You remember the San Bernadino terrorist attack of 2015, and investigators couldn’t get into Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone properly? Apple stood their ground against the Justice Department, insisting that privacy outweighed the government’s investigation. This prompted the Justice Department to bring a lawsuit against Apple. Apple still refused. So the Justice Department paid a hacker to get into the phone. The FBI considered the $900,000 price tag for services rendered to be classified information. By keeping it classified, the identity of the vendor investigators paid to do the work remains protected.

Feinstein cited the amount while questioning former FBI Director James Comey at the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.

The federal government paid the money as it cut short a court fight with Apple Inc., which was resisting a magistrate judge’s order to help the Justice Department hack into the phone. An unidentified third party came forward last March, ahead of a much-anticipated court hearing, with a solution to open the device. The AP and other news organizations last year filed a public records lawsuit to learn how much the FBI paid, and the identity of the vendor.

More importantly, once hacked, the iPhone revealed no evidence of terrorist ties, or any leads for the investigation.

What’s the lesson learned here, you think? Eh, maybe that in some cases you don’t always get what you pay for.



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.