The FBI has cracked the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone with help from professional hackers. These hackers, who work for good and not evil, brought at least one one unknown software flaw to the bureau's attention, according to a source. They are sometimes referred to as the "white hats" of the hacking world, because they inform companies about problems with their software so that it can be fixed. "Black hats," on the other hand, use the information to steal data.
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However, according to the report from The Washington Post, these hackers fall into a third category, one that sells the problems to the companies or government agencies so that they can make money.
This new information was used to break into the iPhone via the four-digit personal ID number. It allowed them to open the phone without erasing any of the data.
While these hackers usually try to stay out of limelight, they were paid an undisclosed fee. Their mission was to find a vulnerability that the FBI could use to get into the phones.
Cracking the pin wasn't actually going to be difficult to the FBI, who thought it would take under a half hour. However, their fear was that it would take more than 10 incorrect guesses to get into the phone, which would erase everything on the phone, and render it useless to them.
While earlier reports suggested that they used Cellebrite, an Israeli firm, people who are familiar with the situation said that is not what was used.
FBI Director James B. Comey said that the solution will only work on an iPhone 5Cs with the running iOS 9 operating system. This is only relevant to what he calls a "narrow slice" of phones.
It is unclear whether or not Apple will sue the government to get access to the solution. However, there is public outcry for the government to release the problem to Apple.
If Apple is able to get the information about the flaw, “they’re going to fix it and then we’re back where we started from,” Comey said last week. Nonetheless, he said Monday in Miami, “we’re considering whether to make that disclosure or not.”
Still, the information has to pass through the White House, and it could be weeks before an answer is known.
“When we discover these vulnerabilities, there’s a very strong bias towards disclosure,” White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel said about another case.. “That’s for a good reason. If you had to pick the economy and the government that is most dependent on a digital infrastructure, that would be the United States.”
But, he added, “we do have an intelligence and national security mission that we have to carry out. That is a factor that we weigh in making our decisions.”
The decision will come from the Justice Department, FBI, National Security Agency, CIA, State Department and Department of Homeland Security, and will look at how widely the software is used. They will also check to see how the flaw can be used.
In this particular case, “you could make the justification on both national security and on law enforcement grounds because of the potential use by terrorists and other national security concerns,” said a senior administration official.
“A decision to withhold a vulnerability is not a forever decision,” Daniel said in the earlier interview. “We require periodic reviews. So if the conditions change, if what was originally a true [undiscovered flaw] suddenly becomes identified, we can make the decision to disclose it at that point.”