FBI director says smartphone encryption hindering investigations 'across the board'

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 2017
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Sunday revealed strong smartphone encryption has prohibited his agency from gleaning data from more than half of the devices it attempted to access in the past 11 months, hindering progress in a wide range of ongoing investigations.




Speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia, Wray said the FBI has been unable to pull data from more than 6,900 devices, the Associated Press reports.

"To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem," Wray said. "It impacts investigations across the board -- narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation."

Wray's comments reignite an ongoing debate that speaks to the efficacy of encryption on consumer electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Law enforcement agencies have long argued that strong encryption obstructs efforts to keep the public safe, as vital evidence might be locked away on protected devices. Tech companies, who effectively stand as gatekeepers to customer data, have countered, saying it is in the public's interest to keep that information secure.

Apple brought the encryption debate to the fore last year when it fought U.S. Justice Department requests for assistance in accessing an iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple declined the department's overtures, saying that the creation of a backdoor for one phone would undermine the security of millions of iOS devices worldwide.

At the time, CEO Tim Cook called the FBI demand "dangerous."

"But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone," Cook said in an open letter to customers last year.

A court battle ensued, but proceedings were cut short when the government successfully unlocked Farook's iPhone with the help of an unidentified outside party.

As for the FBI's current encryption-related problems, Wray did not specify how many of the more than 6,900 devices were Apple products. He did, however, strike a more balanced tone over the encryption issue than did his predecessor, James Comey.

"I get it, there's a balance that needs to be struck between encryption and the importance of giving us the tools we need to keep the public safe," Wray said.

As noted by the AP, the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has suggested it will take a more aggressive stance on the topic of encryption. However, the government has yet to details what policy changes, if any, will be made toward securing consumer data from technology companies, and whether those regulations cover both cloud computing services and on-device encryption.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    ClarityToSeeClarityToSee Posts: 30unconfirmed, member
    What now? Do you ban toilet seats because they are also used by criminals?
    Similarly, do you weaken and compromise all encryption technologies for ALL people because they can’t get into some people’s phones as easily as before ??
    If the technology companies, airline carriers, banks and neighborhood watches are doing all the police work for the authorities, not sure why we still have them around on the payroll ?? If all they are going to do is show up on the scene for pictures after the fact, like in Vegas!
    edited October 2017 Macsplosionwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 2 of 30
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,678member
    The feds need to work harder to get around encryption methods, they have that right, but they better not be suggesting that Apple needs to build in a backdoor option or a special firmware build that the feds can hold safely. I'm glad they seem to have more of a "cat and mouse" approach over a fascist one these days. Same goes for all the scared xenophobes on this forum that wanted exactly that after the FBI messed up their case. It wasn't long after that we heard that the solution Cellobrite created for that SB iPhone was leaked to the internet from a gov't computer. I knew it would happen, but I thought they'd keep it safe a little longer than that.

    edited October 2017 cgWerksbaconstangmagman1979macxpressjony0
  • Reply 3 of 30
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,290member
    Then have congress outlaw encryption or stop whining about it. Apple and other smartphone manufacturers are doing everything within the legal course.  Have congress bring it up and do it so we have another reason to boot them out of office.
  • Reply 4 of 30
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 1,471member
    Soli said:
    The feds need to work harder to get around encryption methods, they have that right, but they better not be suggesting that Apple needs to build in a backdoor option or a special firmware build that the feds can hold safely.
    Exactly. If they can figure out how to crack it, then it's fair game, but we don't want something universally insecure. It *will* get into the wrong hands. Plus, there are too many cases of corruption and mistrust with these 3-letter organizations, that in those cases, they become the 'wrong hands.'
    baconstangMacsplosionmacxpresssandor
  • Reply 5 of 30
    When I see these types of articles it always makes me wonder how the FBI, et al, investigated criminals before smartphones.  Are those techniques no longer useful because somebody uses and encrypted device to communicate with others?  I understand that on-device encryption makes it harder for them to get information off of that phone, but where was similar information kept 20 years ago by those same people? In a filing cabinet with a lock? Did they only communicate over landlines that could be easily tapped? Or through he USPS? And now that we have encrypted smartphones all of that has now been neatly transferred over and is impossible to track?

    Times change.  Adapt and overcome.
    viclauyyccgWerksfrankie
  • Reply 6 of 30
    Soli said:
    The feds need to work harder to get around encryption methods, they have that right, but they better not be suggesting that Apple needs to build in a backdoor option or a special firmware build that the feds can hold safely. I'm glad they seem to have more of a "cat and mouse" approach over a fascist one these days. Same goes for all the scared xenophobes on this forum that wanted exactly that after the FBI messed up their case. It was long after that we heard that the solution Cellobrite created for that SB iPhone was leaked to the internet from a gov't computer. I knew it would happen, but I thought they'd keep it safe a little longer than that.

    Right.  How would they protect that ‘backdoor’ from another Snowden-like release? 
  • Reply 7 of 30
    "...from more than half of the devices* it attempted to access in the past 11 months..."

    * Note: the half running iOS.  The other half -- running Androd -- opened quite easily

    magman1979deepinsideradm1radarthekatjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 30
    I’m sorry....

    My phone is an extension of my mind, it is memories, desires, history, location, fears, ambition, and stupid misguided anger.
    No ONE, especially the government has any right to a single BIT of it.

    Warrants are also rather inconvenient, so in a few famous words.

    ”Come and take it!”

    I would love to see you even try, find out how angry you can make a sleeping beast.  In the meantime, do your job the way us honest Americans do, hard work!

    Give me liberty, or give me death. 🇺🇸 
    radarthekatMacsplosionrandominternetpersonbadmonkwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 30
    Why FBI don’t complain companies that make the most solid lock? I am sure some lock/safe are almost unbreakble  It is the same thing as encryption. Don’t you think it is just odd to complain about people who is doing their job.

    If FBI or CIA, NSA, etc want to find out people’s secret, just hire the best people to do it. If some people can invent the encryption, then some other people can break the encryption. FBI has an unlimited bank account backing them. Just hire the right guy.

    However, I guess NSA already has the technology to break the code. Just US govt don’t want to reveal their ability in court. 

    On side note:

    In a sense, Snowden is a hero. He give up everything in his life to do something is right.

    US government will not be embarrassed if they did everything right. But they had done some really bad things. They have so many dirty tricks and shady things that they don’t want anyone to find out.

    if he is a Russian, everyone will treat him as nation hero in US.
    Soliking editor the gratejbdragon
  • Reply 10 of 30
    In related news, the inability to read people’s minds hampers every investigation. I wonder when the FBI will start complaining about that.
    radarthekatfrankiejbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 30
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,091member
    LordeHawk said:
    I’m sorry....

    My phone is an extension of my mind, it is memories, desires, history, location, fears, ambition, and stupid misguided anger.
    No ONE, especially the government has any right to a single BIT of it.

    Warrants are also rather inconvenient, so in a few famous words.

    ”Come and take it!”

    I would love to see you even try, find out how angry you can make a sleeping beast.  In the meantime, do your job the way us honest Americans do, hard work!

    Give me liberty, or give me death. ߇갟縦amp;nbsp;
    Ha,Ha,Ha hilarious. If the FBI came knocking your door you’d cry like a little girl and hand it over. So would most of us. And if your daughter were kidnapped to be sold into the sex slavery market and the FBI had a device that would tell them where she was you’d be screaming at them to decrypt it.
    edited October 2017 muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 12 of 30
    lkrupp said:
    LordeHawk said:
    I’m sorry....

    My phone is an extension of my mind, it is memories, desires, history, location, fears, ambition, and stupid misguided anger.
    No ONE, especially the government has any right to a single BIT of it.

    Warrants are also rather inconvenient, so in a few famous words.

    ”Come and take it!”

    I would love to see you even try, find out how angry you can make a sleeping beast.  In the meantime, do your job the way us honest Americans do, hard work!

    Give me liberty, or give me death. ߇갟縦amp;nbsp;
    Ha,Ha,Ha hilarious. If the FBI came knocking your door you’d cry like a little girl and hand it over. So would most of us. And if your daughter were kidnapped to be sold into the sex slavery market and the FBI had a device that would tell them where she was you’d be screaming at them to decrypt it.
    I don’t know if you’re a child, disrespectful, joking, or all three.  It’s easy for me to live in a fantasy realm as I have neither a daughter or surviving family.
    I vote, serve on juries and email my government officials, even though it’s a waste of time.  I believe we must fight for the remaining rights left to us, as others don’t seem to care.  Maybe I’m old fashioned in my early thirties, but doing nothing is stupid.
    We shouldn’t leave government to be run by corrupt yuppies or overzealous spenders.
    So no sir, I wouldn’t “cry like a little girl” or turn over my phone.  It wouldn’t be very patriotic to reward bad behavior from a far overreaching government.

    “The true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”
    Macsplosionking editor the graterandominternetpersonfreerangeStrangeDays
  • Reply 13 of 30
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 1,471member
    When I see these types of articles it always makes me wonder how the FBI, et al, investigated criminals before smartphones.  Are those techniques no longer useful because somebody uses and encrypted device to communicate with others?
    I think part of the problem is that as society breaks down, things need to trend more towards a police-state to keep order. Going on fishing expeditions makes their job easier, as it becomes a bigger and bigger job.

    viclauyyc said:
    If FBI or CIA, NSA, etc want to find out people’s secret, just hire the best people to do it. If some people can invent the encryption, then some other people can break the encryption. FBI has an unlimited bank account backing them. Just hire the right guy.
    ...
    US government will not be embarrassed if they did everything right. But they had done some really bad things. They have so many dirty tricks and shady things that they don’t want anyone to find out.
    Yes, if they are after a particular person, they have their ways. I think this is more about having easy access and fishing. There were speeches where Comey was talking about them wanting end-to-end encryption, but through a central channel where it could be decrypted at that point for trusted parties.

    And, that's the problem. If there were truly a 'good guy' out there, I suppose we'd all trust them with this kind of access/power. But, there is no good-guy like that. And, once there's a back-door, it's just a matter of time until it gets out to 'bad-guys.' I don't think they will win on the back-door thing... but we'll need to watch closely for the above 'end-to-end' with open middle type stuff.

    lkrupp said:
    Ha,Ha,Ha hilarious. If the FBI came knocking your door you’d cry like a little girl and hand it over. So would most of us. And if your daughter were kidnapped to be sold into the sex slavery market and the FBI had a device that would tell them where she was you’d be screaming at them to decrypt it.
    Yep, and that's how it begins. I'm sure that's the exact logic and argument they used to authorize torture post 9/11. Most of us would do *anything* under the right circumstances, that doesn't necessarily make it right, especially as a broad principle.
    radarthekatllamarandominternetpersonStrangeDays
  • Reply 14 of 30
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 1,471member
    LordeHawk said:
    “The true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”
    I like that... hadn't run across it before. And, the government is currently (and I don't just mean Trump) bonkers out of control. If you aren't already pissed off enough, just listen to Congressional Dish podcast. When you see what's really going on in Congress, you'll be enraged. I knew it was bad, but I guess my imagination wasn't quite good enough!
  • Reply 15 of 30
    When I see these types of articles it always makes me wonder how the FBI, et al, investigated criminals before smartphones.  Are those techniques no longer useful because somebody uses and encrypted device to communicate with others?

    It was pretty easy to spot carrier pigeons and shoot them down. Public payphones and their likes were never used for nefarious purposes.

    /s

  • Reply 16 of 30
    In related news, the inability to read people’s minds hampers every investigation. I wonder when the FBI will start complaining about that.
    Dammit, you beat me to it. I was going to make the same point.
  • Reply 17 of 30
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,036member
    It's pointless the FBI whinging about this, Apple will not build a backdoor into their OS and they won't create a hacking tool that would definitely be released into the wild. Google and others will also resist this as it would be a marketing bonanza for Apple otherwise. So that's really the end of the story. Instead of whinging they'll have to work it out themselves.
  • Reply 18 of 30
    So we can give them backdoors to help them prosecute 10,000 people, many of which they already have the evidence they need (or they wouldn’t have the phones).  

    Or, they can put hundreds of millions (if we are just talking about US citizens) at risk.

    Let me think... No

    If the FBI wants to find out who the criminals talked to, get a court order and ask the phone company.

    95% of these people probably didn’t use encryption for their communications.

    Same thing for their emails... but contact google, yahoo, etc. instead.
    JFC_PA
  • Reply 19 of 30
    Good.
  • Reply 20 of 30
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 18,731member
    "...from more than half of the devices* it attempted to access in the past 11 months..."

    * Note: the half running iOS.  The other half -- running Androd -- opened quite easily

    According to NC State researchers "As long as the user enables a password lock for an Android device and encrypts the contents, including microSD card data, the Android device in question may be as brute-force resistant as the iPhone."

    Only more recent Android versions have encryption as the default like iOS. Older ones were optional or not at all.  
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