FBI paid at least $1.3 million to hack into the San Bernardino iPhone

iPhone parts in a NY repair store, February 17, 2016. REUTERS

The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports that the FBI payed more than $1m to get into the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone after Apple refused to create software to bypass its encryption. The Washington Post reports that a one-off $1.3m price tag was admitted, obliquely, by FBI Director James Comey by comparison with his own salary.

Federal authorities have not publicly revealed who helped the FBI unlock the San Bernardino iPhone, which was at the center of an extended fight between the government and Apple. The Justice Department had maintained that only Apple could help it access the phone without erasing all of its data before abruptly saying it had gotten help from an outside party and no longer needed Apple’s assistance.

According to people familiar with the issue, the FBI cracked the phone with the help of professional hackers who were paid a one-time flat fee. Law enforcement officials have said recently that the FBI has found no links to foreign terrorists on the phone, though they are still hoping that geolocation data on the device could help reveal what the attackers did during an 18-minute period after the shooting.

The FBI's attempts to compel Apple's cooperation backfired after CEO Tim Cook publicly accused the Bureau of exploiting the case to try and gain backdoor access to iPhones in general. The phone ultimately yielded no useful information.

“But it was, in my view, worth it,” the FBI director said of what it cost to access the phone’s data.