iPhone from 2015 San Bernardino shooting was unlocked for FBI by Australian security firm, report says

Five years later, more details are coming out about how the encryption was cracked by the federal agency.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
2 min read

The iPhone 5C was at the center of a battle between the FBI and Apple.


The FBI unlocked an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters in 2015 thanks to the help of an Australian cybersecurity company, a report says. Azimuth Security, a small infosec company based in Sydney, Australia, came up with the hacking solution for the FBI, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.

It took two Azimuth hackers to break into the iPhone 5C, according to the report.

The FBI revealed in March 2016 that with the help of a third party, it was able to access the data off the iPhone 5C used by one of the two San Bernardino shooters. Apple had refused to write software that would unlock the phone, arguing that such software would weaken the encryption for all other iPhone users.

The FBI spent more than $1.3 million hacking into that iPhone, former bureau Director James Comey said in April 2016.

Three news organizations sued the bureau in late 2016 for information on how the FBI hacked into the iPhone, with the agency releasing 100 pages of heavily redacted documents in January 2017 in response. Those documents censored who the FBI hired to break into the phone.

Last year, the FBI again criticized Apple and said the company had slowed down a national security investigation by refusing to help unlock two iPhones used by a shooter in an attack on Dec. 6, 2019, at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida that left three people dead.

Apple, Azimuth and the FBI didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.