Though it's probably not news to the hacker world, the rest of the world is learning that the feds may not have ever really needed Apple's help to unlock and/or retrieve data from the iPhone 5C that belonged to San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook. On Monday, the FBI asked a federal judge to vacate a scheduled hearing they had in the case against Apple, which so far has refused to cooperate with the government's demands, saying that they had identified an "outside party" to help in cracking the phone. Today, Reuters and the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth are reporting that Israeli-based company Cellebrite, which has been developing forensic software solutions for mobile phones for law enforcement, has been contracted to undertake the problem.
Per the court filing, "Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook's iPhone."
Late last week, some key mobile OS engineers at Apple threatened to quit if they were compelled by the government to compromise the privacy controls that are built into the phone's software.
Meanwhile, much of Tuesday's news coverage of the terrorist attack in Brussels focused on the inability of law enforcement to track the communications of terror suspects given advancements in encrypted text messaging using apps like Telegram which ISIS fighters in Belgium have now been explicitly instructed to use for all communication.
Cellebrite is both a provider of mobile technology in a retail setting, and has a significant business working with military, intelligence, and law enforcement on mobile forensics and data extraction. They are a subsidiary of Japan-based Sun Corp, and Cellebrite USA has an office in Parsippany, New Jersey, per Wikipedia. So far, officials from the company have declined to comment on this case.
According to a publicly accessible contract, the feds inked the deal with Cellebrite on Monday. TechCrunch, however, points out that it's "possible that the FBI knew this option existed all along and the Justice Department was pessimistic about the case." They add,"It's better to postpone and then drop the case than setting a precedent in favor of privacy and Apple."
Edward Snowden offers his own bit of snarky I-told-you-so in the case, pointing out that the FBI's original court filing insisted that Apple had "the exclusive technical means which would assist the government," implying that the feds invoked the All Writs Act too soon in a broader effort to weaken encryption technologies overall.