WASHINGTON, March 23, 2016 — Israeli news agencies have announced that an Israeli firm is assisting the U.S. Department of Justice in unlocking the iPhone that belonged to San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook.
Israeli reports identify the firm as Cellebrite, a company known for its digital forensics. Cellebrite is based in Petah Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv. The company also has affiliates in Parsippany, N.J., the United Kingdom, Germany, China, India and Singapore. Cellebrite splits itself between two businesses: a forensics system used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and technology for mobile retailers. Cybersecurity pioneer John McAfee confirmed that the Israeli firm was helping the FBI.
Apple is engaged in a legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department over a judge’s order that it write new software to disable passcode protection on the iPhone used by the shooter. The two sides were set to face off in court on Tuesday, but on Monday a federal judge agreed to the government’s request to postpone the hearing after U.S. prosecutors said a “third party” had presented a possible method for opening an encrypted iPhone.
Apple has refused to create a special version of iOS that would prevent the contents of a device being wiped if someone made too many incorrect guesses at its passcode. It is not known whether Sayed Farook enabled the security setting, but the FBI says it does not want to risk losing “evidence related to the terrorist mass murder of 14 Americans.”
A Twitter user noted that Cellebrite signed a $15,000 contract with the FBI two days ago. The FBI told a federal judge Monday that an “outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking (Syed) Farook’s iPhone.” A federal magistrate then tentatively stayed her order demanding that Apple assist the authorities in unlocking the phone.
In a call with reporters, Apple attorneys underscored the bind the company finds itself in. If the government does drop its demand for help, the firm will probably remain in the dark on what prosecutors learned and who taught it to them.