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FBI Quest To Unlock iPhone Sets Off Race Among Technology Firms

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Ever since a judge ordered Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking an iPhone used by a terrorist the San Bernardino terror attack, scores of technology firms have been trying to beat the FBI to the punch, according to The Wall Street Journal. The prize for such an accomplishment would be a marketing bonanza and lucrative government contracts.

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One company, Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization Ltd., based in Israel, a unit of Japan’s Sun Corp., demonstrates the possibility of gaining government work. The company is already working with the FBI on the San Bernardino iPhone. Cellebrite says on its website it can fetch data from an iPhone running iOS 8, which is an older version of the operating system which does not have the encryption protections of the iOS9 that the San Bernardino terrorist’s phone has. Cellebrite has signed at least three agreements with the FBI that explain unlocking an iPad or iPhone, according to federal procurement records.

One of the Cellebrite contracts, dated five days after the terrorist attack, is for $4,500. Cellebrite has manufacturing operations in Israel and has marketing units in Brazil, Germany, Singapore and the U.S.

A Marketing Bonanza At Stake

Dan Guido, chief executive of Trail of Bits in New York City, said the marketing rewards from unlocking the iPhone would be outstanding. He said when someone describes a challenge as being impossible, you are motivated to prove them wrong. He said his company will be able to gain access to the iPhone data in one to three months.

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Where Cellebrite is a big player in digital forensics, Trail of Bits specializes in research and development.

Alex Kreilein, marketing manager and chief technology officer at SecureSet LLC, said there are 100 to 150 firms capable of unlocking the iPhone.

Apple Pushes The Security Bar

Apple in recent years has pushed forensics and data recovery firms to improve their ability to retrieve data. When Apple introduced iOS 8 in 2014, the company said it would not have the ability to decrypt data stored on the phone. The iOS9, as well as the iPhone hardware upgrades, make the company’s devices even more secure.

DriveSavers Inc. is also trying to unlock the iPhone, according to Mike Cobb, the company’s director of engineering. Like Trail of Bits, DriveSavers’ efforts are independent of the FBI. Both firms say if they succeed they will pursue government contracts.

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday said the technique it was using to unlock the iPhone might not work.

A department spokesperson said a lot of people have reached out to the agency with proposed methods, but all have failed.

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Jamie Dimon May Hate Bitcoin, but J.P. Morgan Is Embracing Blockchain

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J.P. Morgan Chase CEO has made it abundantly clear that he hates bitcoin, but that hasn’t stopped his firm from adopting the technology that underpins the digital currency system.

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J.P. Morgan Launches Pilot Program 

On Monday, America’s biggest bank rolls out the next phase of its blockchain pilot program. The effort will facilitate a faster, more secure transfer of cross border payments between J.P. Morgan and other banks, including Royal Bank of Canada and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group.

Although the new program will not trade cryptocurrency, it will use the landmark record-keeping technology that underpins it. The Wall Street Journal reports that J.P. Morgan will use the same blockchain technology behind digital currency Ethereum.

Despite widespread concern over cryptocurrency, financiers are enamored with blockchain. They, like many others, say the technology can significantly increase the speed of cross-border payments. The system currently in place is extremely complex, and requires multiple streams of communication between various participants. The blockchain has the potential to cut down transaction time from as much as 15 days to mere hours.

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The pilot program aims to achieve a secure distributed ledger across financial institutions, enabling banks to work together to process transactions. Connecting transaction data through a shared network will greatly reduce the number of steps it takes to verify and process transactions.

J.P.’s embrace of blockchain doesn’t mean he’s going to warm up to cryptocurrency. His latest criticism of bitcoin came on Friday when he said it had “no actual value” and that “governments are going to crush it.” He did, however, give a glowing review of blockchain.

“We actually use it. It will be useful for a lot of different things,” Dimon said at a conference in Washington, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal. “God bless the blockchain.”

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Cryptocurrency Adoption Will Lead to Free Money Transfers, According to Top Tech Investor

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The rapid adoption of cryptocurrency will soon pave the way for free global money transfers, according to a top technology investor.

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Cathie Wood, the CEO of Ark Invest, says cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are going to spearhead a system of free money transfers worldwide. She cites the already huge reduction in conversion fees from fiat currencies into crypto and back again. The current rate for those transactions is 2-3%, which is a fraction of the 7-8% money transfer services like Western Union charge.

But Wood says crypto transfer fees could soon fall to zero as companies prioritize valuable transaction information above anything else.

The cryptocurrency market approached record highs over the weekend, hitting a total value of $176.6 billion. Bitcoin’s market cap surged above $90 billion last week and reached a high of $96.7 billion recently. That surpassed the capitalization of major equities like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

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If bitcoin were a stock, it would be the 15th largest member of the Nasdaq and the 58th largest on the New York Stock Exchange.

Computing Power as a Commodity

In Wood’s view, that the growing value of cryptocurrency will lead to the commoditization of bandwidth and computing power.

“It’s interesting that you’ve got corn and oil and copper trading on the exchange but you don’t have computing power, and bandwidth, and storage,” Wood said, according to CNBC. “Well we think that’s going to happen because of blockchain technology and all of the cryptos that are coming along.”

Woods has placed special emphasis on Ethereum, a unique platform that operates more like a “cryptocommodity” than anything else.

Ark Invest is the author of the widely cited whitepaper, Bitcoin: A Disruptive Currency. In it, the firm argues that cryptocurrency has the potential to be the most disruptive development since the Internet. The investment manager controls $1.7 billion of asset funds focused exclusively on emerging technologies.

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Jamie Dimon Doesn’t Want to Talk About Bitcoin Anymore

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Jamie Dimon doesn’t have anything to say about bitcoin anymore. The head of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co has been heckled by the blockchain community since he declared cryptocurrency to be a “fraud,” and that he would fire any employee trading it for being “stupid.”

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Bitcoin’s New Record

Dimon also doesn’t think much of bitcoin’s new record high. The virtual currency spiked more than 8% on Thursday to surpass $5,200.00 for the first time.

“I wouldn’t put this high in the category of important things in the world, but I’m not going to talk about bitcoin anymore,” Dimon said Thursday, as noted by Bloomberg.

J.P. Morgan has taken a less adversarial approach to cryptocurrency. In addition to handling bitcoin-related trades – something that came to light after Dimon’s warning – the financial giant is keeping its options open. J.P. remains “very open minded” to possible uses of cryptocurrencies “if they are properly controlled and regulated,” according to Chief Financial Officer Marine Lake.

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Mainstream Appeal Growing

The growth and widespread adoption of cryptocurrency hasn’t been lost on the financial community. Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted that his firm is weighing the possibility of trading cryptocurrency.

Fidelity Investments is also mining cryptocurrency, and making a lot of money doing it. Fidelity says its chief motivation for mining isn’t profit, but learning about the growing cryptocurrency market.

Increased mainstream adoption of bitcoin is seen by many as a necessary precursor to a more stable currency. Countries like Japan are spearheading adoption by introducing favorable regulation of the cryptocurrency space. But regulatory approval has not been uniform.

Russia recently became the third major economy in the span of a month to put the clampdown on cryptocurrency trading. China and South Korea have also implemented new controls on the market, focusing heavily on initial coin offerings.

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