FBI Paid Over $1.3 Million to Grey-Hat Hacker to Hack San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Last week a federal judge ordered Apple to write software that would allow law enforcement agencies investigating the December 2, 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, to hack into one of the attacker's iPhone. Apple is fighting the order, saying it would create a way for hackers, foreign governments, and other nefarious groups to invade its customers' privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The San Bernardino case that has ignited an encryption and privacy rights debate, has only piqued more public scrutiny after FBI Director James Comey admitted to employing a grey-hat hacker to unlock the shooter’s iPhone.

Rizwan Farook, who is said to be responsible for the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, CA., was arrested after the Dec 4 shooting, with an investigation that mobilized around the importance of his iPhone data. When Apple refused to help the FBI in their investigations, citing concerns for law enforcement agencies accessing private date, the court offered its support. However, the FBI pursued unlocking software for Farook’s iPhone, quickly dropping the case against Apple, stating they had a third party they could turn to. Unlock-iPhone

Director James Comey has hinted during a recent Aspen Security Forum in London, that a grey-hat hacker was employed to break into the shooter’s iPhone. Further to that, Comey suggested an undisclosed amount was paid to the hacker for a program that can only be used on the 5C iPhones, of which Farook possessed.

When prompted at the forum on how much the FBI had spent on the hacker, Comey replied “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.”

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and public records, Comey earned $183,000 last year, and will make (without bonuses or a pay rise) another $1.34 million over the remainder of his career, suggesting over 1.3 million USD was paid to the hacker.

Since accessing the iPhone, the FBI have admitted that there was nothing of significance found, however, since dropping the high profile case against Apple, the question remains about what to do with future high stakes encryption and civilian privacy.

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