Last week, FBI Director James Comey let slip that the bureau paid more than the amount of money he’ll make in the remainder of his term for the technique that cracked the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. If that were true, it seems that Comey may have taken a pay cut.
Reuters calculated the amount to be more than $1.3 million based on his annual salary as of January 2015, which was $183,300. But Reuters is now reporting, according to various, unnamed sources, that the government paid less than $1 million. The original figure would have been the largest sum paid for a hacking technique, but it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Perhaps more importantly, the FBI will indeed be able to use the technique to unlock other iPhone 5C models on iOS 9. It’s the same version and phone left behind by Syed Farook, one of the two shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, last December.
Comey previously said the technique would only work on a “narrow slice of phones” — Apple’s newer devices have improved encryption technology.
The bureau paid professional “gray hat” hackers to unlock the iPhone 5C. But the phone sparked a monthlong legal battle between Apple and the FBI, as Apple refused to create a special tool to provide access into the phone.
Apple feared that, in the wrong hands, the tool could be used against all of its customers, threatening their privacy and security. The Cupertino company’s sentiments were echoed by many other tech companies, privacy advocates, and human rights groups, as well as legal, tech, cryptology, and cybersecurity experts. The FBI dropped the case after the team of anonymous hackers successfully cracked the phone.
When Comey was asked how much the government paid, his response was: “More than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months for sure. But it was, in my view, worth it.”
But while the FBI still may have shelled out a lot of money to own the technique, it doesn’t know the entire details of how it works. It’s why the bureau isn’t disclosing the technique to Apple or the White House.
The White House has an internal review group, the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, which decides whether or not to inform companies of security vulnerabilities found by government agencies. The FBI claims since it didn’t discover the vulnerability, and the fact that its agents don’t fully understand how it works, the bureau won’t have anything to share if a review is launched.
Reuters says not even Comey knows the identity of the team of hackers that broke into the iPhone.