Some of you might remember the story of an iPhone 4 prototype left at a bar and partially spoiling Apple’s keynote back then.
Recently, stolen prototype iPhones, which ended up in the hands of corporate hackers, served as a tool to break into the operating system of Apple.
This reported issue is the focus of this week’s Motherboard investigation. The narrative claims that there is a gray market for iPhone prototypes that are stolen from Apple’s production lines. These so-called “dev-fused” iPhone prototypes are generally used to help security researchers find vulnerabilities and bugs. Because they run a less restrictive version of iOS, the root access is comparatively trivial to obtain as per the report.
The sources from Motherboard say that these dev-fused iPhones (e.g iPhone X) cost as little as $1800 on this gray market. These devices are used to develop handheld Cellebrite machines , which are occasionally used by the law enforcement agencies to break into specific phones. Remember that Cellebrite was mentioned as the company helping the FBI to crack the iPhone 5C, which belonged to a terrorist shooter from San Bernadino in 2016. Later, Cellebrite’s connection was refuted.
However, numerous sources reported that Cellebrite has gained dev-fused devices. Other corporate hacker companies, like Azimuth, have been accused to use the same or similar tactics.