John McAfee Claims FBI’s Battle With Apple Was All Precedent, Government Contractor Cellebrite Had The Technology

John McAfee is a lot of things. He's an antivirus pioneer who sold his McAfee antivirus technology to Intel; he's a Libertarian candidate for U.S. president; and he's an eccentric individual with a heck of a story to tell about his escape from Belize where he was a person of interest in a murder investigation. On top of it all, he's supposedly a man with inside knowledge about how the FBI cracked the work-issued iPhone 5c model that was once used by Syed Farook, one of San Bernardino shooters.

In an email exchange with Forbes, McAfee said Cellebrite, a subsidiary of Sun Corporation, inked a deal with the FBI nearly three years ago to provide forensic analysis of mobile devices, including smartphones like the iPhone. The company does this using a device called UFED Touch, a standalone mobile forensic extraction gadget.

iPhone 5c

Using the UFED Touch, the U.S. government can supposedly extract data from any iPhone and other smartphone devices.  According to McAfee, the reason the FBI sued Apple in an attempt to force the Cupertino outfit to help the agency crack the aforementioned iPhone 5c handset was to set a legal precedent. Had the FBI ultimately won, it could have gone to Google and forced the Mountain View firm to provide backdoor access to Android. Between the two (Apple and Google), the FBI would be able to break into more than 98 percent of the world's smartphone devices.

There was also a financial motivator. The UFED Touch device costs several thousand dollars per unit. Presumably there's upkeep involved as well, which would add to the ongoing cost as new generation smartphones come out. It would be far cheaper for the FBI to obtain master keys for iOS and Android than to equip authorities across the country with UFED Touch devices.

Of course, you should take all this with several grains of salt. While certainly plausible, McAfee recently admitted to The Daily Dot that he lied about how easy it would be for him and a team of hackers to hack the iPhone 5c, only to then turn around and say it wasn't a lie so much as it was a dumbing down of the truth.

One thing is for sure—Apple and the FBI are on complete opposite sides on the issue of encryption and whether or not law enforcement should be allowed unfettered access into mobile devices. The issue may still play out in court someday, but not right now.