FBI Paid Hackers Over $1.3 Million to Hack iPhone

The iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters has been at the center of stand-off between the FBI and Apple in recent times. While Apple stuck to its no-backdoor policy, the FBI eventually recruited the help of grey-hat hackers to crack the iPhone. The cost for such a hack-job? Over $1.3 million. The highest ever publicly known fee for a hack.

In numbers researched by Reuters, it can now be confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation paid over $1.3 million to hackers in order to unlock the iPhone without triggering its auto-wipe security feature.

At a recent security forum in London, a moderator addressing Comey directly asked the director how much the FBI paid for the software created by grey-hat hackers to unlock the iPhone.

His reply was telling:

A lot. 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.

Researching the numbers from the FBI and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Reuters discovered that Comey’s annual salary, as of January 2015, was $183,300. Those are last year’s figures and sans a bonus or a raise or incentives, Comey will stand to make $1.34 million over the next seven years and four months.

The figure represents the highest ever publicly-known fee for a hacking job. The number beats the highest public bounty for a hacking job, one put forth by zero-day security firm Zerodium that paid $1 million to break into the iPhone.

Following a long stand-off between Apple and the FBI, the Justice Department – to much astonishment – dropped its case against Apple in March after it revealed that the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter was successfully unlocked by an unknown third party.

Contrary to reports that an Israeli security company had helped the FBI with the unlock, it was recently revealed that the FBI had used the services of professional hackers to unlock the iPhone. Hackers in this case who were grey-hats, a murky category among hackers who find and disclose vulnerabilities to governments and regimes, for profit.

FBI Has its Backdoor for the iPhone

Notably, the FBI now has the means to unlock any iPhone 5C, the model used by the San Bernardino shooter. Comey stated that the FBI will be able to use the backdoor software on any other iPhone 5C running iOS 9.

The revelation is incredibly relevant to the current demographic of iPhone users in the United States. There are 16 million iPhones of the 5C variant in use and eighty-four percent of iOS devices overall are currently running iOS 9, according to numbers from Apple.

 Featured image from Shutterstock.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.