FBI paid professional hackers to help unlock San Bernardino shooter's iPhone

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The FBI managed to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter by paying professional hackers who discovered a security flaw, sources say.

The unidentified sources told the Washington Post that the information was used to create hardware to unlock the phone without triggering a feature that erases phone data after too many attempts to enter a four-digit password.

Because of the hackers’ help, the FBI did not need the aid of Israeli firm Cellebrite, the sources said.

The article identifies three types of hackers who discover security flaws. At least one of the hackers who helped the FBI is among the “gray hats” who sell the flaws they discover to governments or companies that make surveillance tools. The other hacker categories are “black hats” who exploit security flaws to steal data, and “white hats” who disclose the flaws to the software makers so they can be fixed.

FBI Director James Comey said last week that the hack works only on iPhone 5Cs running the iOS 9 operating system. The government is considering whether to eventually expose the flaw to Apple.

The phone was provided to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook by his government employer.

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