How much was the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone worth to the Federal Bureau of Investigation? Director James Comey let slip a hint, which Reuters used to calculate a ballpark amount well north of $1.3 million.
“More than I will make in the remainder of this job … But it was, in my view, worth it.”
If the estimate is accurate, it is the largest ever publicly known amount paid for a hacking technique, beating out Zerodium, an information security firm that paid $1 million to an anonymous team of hackers to break into iOS 9.1 late last year.
The bureau paid professional “gray hat” hackers to unlock the iPhone 5C left behind by one of the San Bernardino shooters, Syed Farook. The phone sparked a month-long 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 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.
Comey was speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in London, when he was asked how much the FBI paid to unlock the iPhone. “A lot,” he said. “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.”
Reuters estimated that since, according to the FBI and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Comey’s annual salary as of January 2015 was $183,300, that amount will reach $1.34 million by the day his term ends.
The contents of the iPhone didn’t show any evidence of ties to ISIS, but it helped put to bed a few theories the FBI held about what happened during an 18-minute gap from when the shooters left the holiday party, after they killed 14 people. It’s still unknown what exactly happened during that time period.