The FBI is thought to have paid at least $1.3 million (£900,000) to hack into the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Farook.
The figure was calculated based on comments by FBI director James Comey, who said that the agency had paid more to hack the iPhone 5C than he “will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months”.
According to public filings , Comey makes $183,300 (£127,800) a year, putting the cost of the iPhone hack at around $1.3 million – the largest publicised fee ever paid for a hacking job.
That figure doesn’t include the legal costs of threatening to take Apple to court over the issue, before abruptly dropping the case .
And here’s the rub – some US news outlets have reported that, so far, the FBI has found nothing of real significance on Farook’s iPhone.
Comey insists that the expenditure was “worth it”, because the same method can be used on other iPhone 5Cs running iOS 9 software.
However, he admitted it was a bit of “a corner case”, as most people have now moved on to newer iPhone models.
The FBI announced that it had finally managed to unlocked Farook’s iPhone at the end of March, after Apple refused to comply with demands to break its encryption.
The identity of the security firm or group of hackers that helped unlock the iPhone has not been revealed.
However, whoever it was uncovered a “zero-day vulnerability” that enabled the FBI to crack the four-digit identification number – without triggering the security feature that would have deleted all data on the phone after 10 incorrect guesses.
Andrew Crocker a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the San Bernardino case highlights the need for oversight of the government’s purchase and use of these vulnerabilities.
“If the government is going to continue on a course of spending a lot of money on vulnerabilities that are perhaps not useful or short-lived, it’s the sort of thing that Congress should have some oversight on,” he told Wired magazine .