Israeli company Cellebrite helped the FBI crack the iPhone used by the terrorist involved in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting last year, according to several reports in the media. Earlier this week, the FBI succeeded in unlocking the password-protected iPhone, though the agency didn’t disclose its technique.
On December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 were injured in a terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. The perpetrators were Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik. Believing the information on Farook’s iPhone could help investigators reach the terrorists’ accomplices, the FBI asked iPhone manufacturer Apple Inc. to unlock the iPhone, which was protected by a password. Apple refused, citing privacy concerns.
Apple’s refusal to crack the iPhone has led to an extensive public debate on whether the government should gain access to the personal information of its citizens (Farook was an American citizen).
After Apple’s refusal, cellular technology company Cellebrite – founded 17 years ago in Israel by Yossi Carmil – reportedly approached the FBI in an attempt to help. According to some accounts, the FBI is already a client of Cellebrite. Cellebrite’s spokeswoman in Israel declined to comment.
Cellebrite is a global company focused on mobile data technology. In 2007, it established its mobile forensics division, which specializes in the decoding and analysis of data from thousands of mobile devices, including smartphones, portable GPS devices and tablets.
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In addition to mobile device data, its ‘UFED Cloud Analyzer’ provides extraction, preservation and analysis of private data residing in cloud environments, such as social media accounts.
The company serves forensic specialists in the law enforcement, military, intelligence, and corporate security fields in more than 100 countries around the globe. Its technology can extract encrypted data from cellphones – even information that was deleted.
Headquartered in Petah Tikva, Israel, Cellebrite operates five additional offices around the world, with a total of 500 employees.
Nine years ago, Cellebrite was acquired by Japanese manufacturing giant Sun Corp. for $17.5 million, and has since been its wholly owned subsidiary. Sun’s shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange rose by 40 percent in recent days, following reports on its subsidiary’s success in hacking the iPhone.
Apple’s refusal to crack the iPhone “created a situation where the FBI can go to third parties to do that,” Matt Larson, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, told Bloomberg News. “Companies like Cellebrite may have found a niche industry of assisting the FBI unlock personal devices in select cases moving forward.”