FBI reportedly inflated statistics on encrypted cellphone threat

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2018
The FBI has for months bemoaned the threat encrypted cellphones pose to ongoing investigations, saying investigators were locked out of some 7,800 devices last year. A new report, however, claims the agency's figures are grossly inflated.




While an accurate tally has yet to be determined, the bureau likely encountered between 1,000 and 2,000 encrypted devices linked to criminal activity in 2017, The Washington Post reports.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the FBI said an error in internal accounting methods led to repeated counting of phones listed on three separate databases. The issue, discovered about a month ago, resulted in repeated counting of encrypted devices tied to criminal investigations, the report said.

"The FBI's initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,'' the FBI said in a statement.

A recalculation following the discovery put the correct number of encrypted devices at 1,200, but that figure is expected to change as the bureau undertakes a new internal audit.

Dubbed "Going Dark" by law enforcement and intelligence community officials, the implementation of strong smartphone encryption has become a particularly odious hindrance to law enforcement duties. The situation leaves agencies like the FBI with legal standing to unlock and access data within a phone, but without the technical capabilities to do so.

FBI director Christopher Wray often cites Going Dark as impetus for coaxing technology companies into building back doors into encryption systems for law enforcement agencies, or pressing Congress to enact laws that would mandate the same.

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

At the time, Wray said the FBI was unable to pull data from more than 6,900 devices. In a congressional hearing in December, he repeated the call for action, saying the bureau "was unable to access the content of approximately 7,800 mobile devices using appropriate and available technical tools, even though there was legal authority to do so."

The 7,800 phone figure came up again in a speech Wray delivered at the International Conference on Cyber Security in January, when the FBI head revealed the exact number of locked devices stood at 7,775. He repeated the inflated statistics in a series of public appearances, including a speech at Boston College in March.

"Each one of those nearly 7,800 devices is tied to a specific subject, a specific defendant, a specific victim, a specific threat," Wray said, shaping the inability to access stored data as a "major public safety issue."

Wray was in April asked by a congressional panel to explain the FBI's reasoning for taking Apple to court in 2016 as part of an investigation involving San Bernardino terror suspect Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone 5c. Specifically, an inquiry carried out by the Office of the Inspector General found the agency failed to exhaust all options before demanding Apple's assistance.

Apple opposed the demands, arguing that a backdoor into one phone inherently weakens iOS as a platform. The company prepared to fight what was expected to be a precedent-setting legal battle until the FBI dropped the case after a third party approached the agency with an unlocking solution.

Since then, privacy advocates and tech companies, including Apple, have fought proposals that would force smartphone makers to build backdoors into their products. In March, for example, Apple SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi argued against a renewed push for backdoor access, saying, "Proposals that involve giving the keys to customers' device data to anyone but the customer inject new and dangerous weaknesses into product security."

As for the FBI's flawed phone counting practices, the agency says that while the numbers were incorrect, public safety is still at risk by the Going Dark threat.

"Going Dark remains a serious problem for the FBI, as well as other federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners," the bureau said in a statement. "The FBI will continue pursuing a solution that ensures law enforcement can access evidence of criminal activity with appropriate legal authority."

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    buzdotsbuzdots Posts: 451member
    The FBI fabricating something to get what what they want?   You got to be kiddin' me - tell me this is a dream!  /s
    edited May 2018 racerhomie3redgeminipatallest skilanantksundaramberndogjony0cgWerkschasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 18
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,146moderator
    Let’s talk about device security and backdoors, in a simple manner.  Let’s first compare an iPhone, for example, with a safe that you might buy for your home.  But this safe is from a company that really takes security seriously. And so they sell you a safe that comes with a stack of rice paper (dissolvable in water) and a pen with dissolvable ink to write on the rice paper.  The idea is, you write down your personal information, passwords, etc, information you’d otherwise have to perfectly remember, on the rice paper and then you put that in the safe and lock it.

    Oh, and this safe comes with a special set of internal mechanisms, plus a small tank of water, such that if the safe is disturbed or improperly opened, the rice paper is submerged into the tank of water.  

    Now, it might be that an owner of such a safe may write on his rice paper a terrorist plot and the contact info of his associates in that plot.  So the government, upon arresting or killing that person on the day the plot was carried out would certainly have reason to want access to the stack of rice paper in his safe.

    The question is, should the government have the right to demand of the company that manufactured the safe a means of opening the safe other than by knowing the combination, which the customer set and would therefore be know to nobody other than the dead or captured terrorist?  

    This conceptualization of the problem removes from the discussion smartphones and their many uses, and focuses the issue on whether we should have any external storage of our internal thoughts that is as sacrosanct as our internal mind, accessible only via our own willingness to expose it?   Only through accepted interrogation techniques should you be able to persuade a captured terrorist to give up
    information in his head, and that avenue is eliminated should he be dead.  And only through accepted safe cracking techniques (with a warrant) should you be able to access information in his safe, and that avenue is eliminated should you trigger the built-in destruct mechanism.

    Well, that’s my view of it, anyway.  I have a different view regarding information being transmitted over publicly accessible infrastructure like the internet or a phone line, where an idea can be disseminated to many other minds and therefore could lever that infrastructure to subvert social values or strictures, and therefore would be anathema to the purpose of that infrastructure (and therefore should be open to inspection by authorities).  A subject already covered by existing wiretap laws, which I generally agree with.
    edited May 2018 racerhomie3StrangeDaysolsbeowulfschmidttdknoxjony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 18
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,697member
    “Going dark” is propaganda scaremongering BS. If you’re using a cell phone at all, you are not by definition “dark,” as your service provider can and does collect much more data about you than Apple does. About the only thing Apple may have on you that your carrier doesn’t is how many times you accessed one of their apps. I have to say flatly I used to have a lot of respect for the FBI but these last two directors (Mr Comey and now Mr Wray) have totally screwed that up; the former by politicizing the agency, the latter by flat-out lying to scare tech-ignorant lawmakers and the public into letting the government become Big Brother.
    dysamoriaolsredgeminipaClarityToSeejmey267anantksundaramberndogjony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 18
    bestkeptsecretbestkeptsecret Posts: 3,415member
    "Going Dark" is the FBI remaining in the dark ages of technology while the world moves on.
    olsradarthekatredgeminipaClarityToSeeanantksundaramjony0
  • Reply 5 of 18
    claire1claire1 Posts: 510unconfirmed, member
    a question about iPhone,

    Can it be unlocked if it isn't iCloud locked but asks for a passcode?
  • Reply 6 of 18
    ClarityToSeeClarityToSee Posts: 34unconfirmed, member
    Fear and paranoia of the people has been used again and again to encroach and then assert more surveillance and authority on private citizens lives for control and influence. This is nothing but continuation of the same tactics by the national surveillance apparatus. 
    sandorredgeminipaapplejeffclaire1jony0
  • Reply 7 of 18
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,998member
    HEY EVERYONE...IF WE TURN THIS INTO A POLITICAL ARGUMENT THIS THREAD WILL GET CLOSED! WE NEVER LEARN DO WE!
    mike1radarthekat
  • Reply 8 of 18
    toysandmetoysandme Posts: 223member

    I'd love to place a wager on this; if big media stopped publicizing mass shootings, we'd see a drastic decline in them. If the idea isn't constantly presented to the weak-minded, they won't be smart enough to think of it on their own. Maybe they'll just go back to committing suicide, saving many lives. 
    Actually, I can assure you that 99% of suicides are not publicly reported for that reason: they promote copycat suicides. Ask any journalist. This is universal. Years ago I happened to watch a documentary on the routine maintenance of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The reporter casually asked a question about what was done to prevent people from just jumping off the tower. I have never seen anyone changing the subject so quickly!
    The media and Hollywood are responsible for milking and promoting terror attacks. 
    jony0buzdots
  • Reply 9 of 18
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,967administrator
    macxpress said:
    HEY EVERYONE...IF WE TURN THIS INTO A POLITICAL ARGUMENT THIS THREAD WILL GET CLOSED! WE NEVER LEARN DO WE!
    The line has been toed up to. It will go no further.
    edited May 2018
  • Reply 10 of 18
    4noble4noble Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    Bad intent or not, they can't count due to "programming errors" and they want us to trust them with the keys to everyones personal data
    edited May 2018 spheric
  • Reply 11 of 18
    sphericspheric Posts: 1,798member
    4noble said:
    Bad intent or not, they can't count due to "programming errors" and they want us to trust them with the keys to everyones personal data
    Yep. These are surely the people we want in charge of super-secret backdoor software for all our handheld devices...
  • Reply 12 of 18
    The government is supposed to be ensuring our safety. I’d take the security of knowing my family’s personal phones are encrypted and secure over the fleeting chance terrorists are plotting mischief in our area (rural Western Canada). 
    tallest skil
  • Reply 13 of 18
    claire1claire1 Posts: 510unconfirmed, member
    toysandme said:

    I'd love to place a wager on this; if big media stopped publicizing mass shootings, we'd see a drastic decline in them. If the idea isn't constantly presented to the weak-minded, they won't be smart enough to think of it on their own. Maybe they'll just go back to committing suicide, saving many lives. 
    Actually, I can assure you that 99% of suicides are not publicly reported for that reason: they promote copycat suicides. Ask any journalist. This is universal. Years ago I happened to watch a documentary on the routine maintenance of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The reporter casually asked a question about what was done to prevent people from just jumping off the tower. I have never seen anyone changing the subject so quickly!
    The media and Hollywood are responsible for milking and promoting terror attacks. 
    Suicide actually exposes sexism against men. They don't want that truth told.
    tallest skil
  • Reply 14 of 18
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    claire1 said:
    Suicide actually exposes sexism against men. They don't want that truth told.
    Let’s not go down that path in this thread.
  • Reply 15 of 18
    buzdotsbuzdots Posts: 451member
    claire1 said:
    Suicide actually exposes sexism against men. They don't want that truth told.
    Let’s not go down that path in this thread.
    Aww, c'mon, I would love to hear this one...
    claire1
  • Reply 16 of 18
    sphericspheric Posts: 1,798member
    claire1 said:
    Suicide actually exposes sexism against men. They don't want that truth told.
    Let’s not go down that path in this thread.
    ...or, in fact, at all.
    radarthekat
  • Reply 17 of 18
    claire1claire1 Posts: 510unconfirmed, member
    buzdots said:
    claire1 said:
    Suicide actually exposes sexism against men. They don't want that truth told.
    Let’s not go down that path in this thread.
    Aww, c'mon, I would love to hear this one...
    Male suicide accounts for about 80% of all suicides. Anything violent or harmful against males is ignored intentionally to create an illusion that men and boys live in a utopia. Males are raped more often than females and I can go forever with the facts that go unreported in the media.
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