Israeli pinball wizards crack Apple code for FBI
Published 01/04/2016 | 02:30
A little-known Japanese company at the centre of a legal tussle between Apple and the US government over the hacking of an iPhone built its business on pinball game machines and stumbled into the mobile phone security business almost by accident.
Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization worked with the FBI to crack an iPhone connected in a terrorist attack, according to sources.
Neither Cellebrite nor the FBI have confirmed the link, and a spokesman from parent Sun Corp said yesterday that the company isn't able to comment on specific criminal cases.
Sun, based in a small town of 100,000 southwest of Tokyo, has been building pinball-like game machines found in Japan's pachinko parlours since the 1970s but has often displayed bigger tech ambitions.
The company developed personal computers in the late 1970s, computer games and more recently, iPhone apps.
In 2007, as sales slumped, Sun acquired Israel-based Cellebrite.
Cellebrite hadn't ventured into forensics at the time, and the purchase was mainly to add phone-to-phone data transfer to Sun's fledgling telecommunications business, said the Japanese company's spokesman Hidefumi Sugaya.
When Cellebrite later took on investigative agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation as clients, the business took off, he said.
Today, the bulk of Sun's mobile data solutions business comes from Cellebrite, said Sugaya.
Sun's shares have surged since March 21, when US authorities said a third party demonstrated a way to access data on the iPhone used in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting last year.
The shares rose 7pc to 1,091 yen by the close of trading in Tokyo yesterday. "If it's Cellebrite it's probably good publicity for them," said Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for Asia Pacific at security company FireEye Inc.
"There are other companies as well that provide tools in this space, and Cellebrite are one of the best companies in this space."
Revenue from Cellebrite's mobile data solutions division overtook pachinko parts for Sun in 2014 and contributed 13.6 billion yen (€100m) or 50pc of sales in the last fiscal year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
It's now the largest business segment for Sun. (Bloomberg)