The FBI has turned to Israeli software company Cellebrite to help break the encryption on one of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhones, reports Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Wednesday.
According to anonymous sources speaking to the Israeli paper, utilizing Cellebrite could allow the FBI to circumvent Apple altogether, though Cellebrite sources have not commented on the new partnership
Cellebrite specializes in mobile forensics such as cracking software on mobile devices, tablets and GPS systems.
According to its corporate website, “Cellebrite mobile forensics solutions give access to and unlock the intelligence of mobile data sources to extend investigative capabilities, accelerate investigations, unify investigative teams and produce solid evidence.”
The FBI previously said Monday it may not need Apple’s help to crack the iPhone, despite a protracted legal battle between the federal agency and the company. According to a court filing Tuesday, a third-party organization showed the agency how to break the iPhone encryption. It appears Cellebrite may be that third party, though this information has yet to be confirmed.
The U.S. Department of Justice, the umbrella agency the FBI falls under, has been attempting to use a judicial order to force Apple to write new software for the phone which would allow it to unlock the passcode protection.
Apple has been fighting the order in court, citing privacy concerns and the dangerous precedent it would set. Apple believes if the government forces it to unlock one phone, it could force the company to unlock the phones of other customers, thus compromising its security and business.
President Barack Obama sided with the FBI at the South By Southwest conference in Austin March 11.
“I am of the view that there are very real reasons why we want to make sure the government can’t just willy nilly get into everyone’s smartphones,” said Obama, but he qualified his statement by saying manufacturers should create a method for the government to break into phones in special circumstances.
“If it’s possible to make an impenetrable device where encryption is so strong that there is no key… then how do we apprehend the child pornographer… how do we disrupt a terrorist plot… how do we do simple things like tax enforcement?” said Obama. “If we can’t crack that and can’t get in… then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket… there needs to be a way to get in somehow.”
Apple and the FBI were set to spar in court Tuesday, but the judge hearing the case accepted the agency’s request to postpone the case after it discovered going through Apple to crack the phone may not be necessary. It is possible Cellebrite’s involvement could bring an end to the ongoing legal battle.
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