FBI Used Hackers, Not Israeli Firm, to Break Into San Bernardino Shooters' Phone

After discovering iPhone flaw, professional hackers accessed phone of terrorist couple who shot dead 14 people in California.

Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook, the two suspects in the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, December 4, 2015.
AFP / HO

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation broke into cell phone data of the San Bernardino shooters with the assistance of professional hackers, the Washington Post reported this week. 

The claim disproves a previous report that the Petah Tikva-based company Cellebrite provided the technology needed to access the terrorist couple's data. 

At first, the FBI sought to force Apple to disclose the encryption information necessary to break into the phone, but ultimately managed on its own after Apple objected on privacy grounds. 

According to the Washington Post, professional hackers were able to access the couple's information after discovering a flaw in the iPhone. The flaw was then used to fashion hardware that helped the U.S. law enforcement agency to break into the phone without triggering a security feature that would have wiped out all the data.

It had previously been reported that Cellebrite's technology enabled the FBI to break into the cellphone of the husband and wife terrorist couple who shot up a county health department facility in California in December. Fourteen people in addition to the couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were killed in the attack.

Over the past decade Cellebrite has captured a major slice of the mobile forensics market, providing police forces, government agencies and private companies across the world with hardware and software that enable investigators to extract information from most handheld devices, even if the data has been encrypted or deleted.