This battle between Apple and the FBI is one of the most controversial technology stories of the year.
The FBI, while trying to get into the phone of the two San Bernardino terrorists, took Apple to court. The agency demanded that Apple help the agency get data off the locked phone and then said “never mind.”
Apple then asked, why the “never mind”?
The FBI hired its own hackers and one or more of them were able to get the data off the iPhone, according to the Washington Post.
There were rumors that the Israeli tech firm Cellebrite was brought in to assist, but that does not seem to be the case.
Have you heard of the Bug Bounty program and bug hunters in general? Started in 1996, the program was the idea of a Netscape employee who recognized the work being done outside of the company on their products.
He pitched an idea to management about how to incentivize these outsiders and make their findings more widely available. His bosses loved the idea and the program was off and running.
The same system is in place for other firms today. Hackers and tech specialists around the world are paid to find bugs in systems. This way, the flaws can be fixed before they reach the public.
Facebook had a program where it actually issued debit cards to researchers who found bugs. Facebook is not alone. Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft all have their own bug programs and they are certainly not limited to the United States.
Russia has the most bug hunters, followed by India and then the U.S., Brazil and the UK. Payments for discovering a bug can reach up to $20,000.
So you can see why people jump into this sort of thing. Where does this leave law enforcement, tech companies and little ole me (the consumer)?
Who knows. FBI Director James Comey said this case was the hardest problem in his career. The issues with encryption and privacy cannot be magically solved in our courts.
The shelf life of the vulnerability that was found in the terrorists’ iPhone 5C seems to be very short, so Apple is not worried about pursuing the case any further.
Just wait until Hollywood gets a hold of this. You know there is a studio exec pitching this story now: “OK, super-nerd bounty hunter works with the FBI to crack the case…..”