The FBI has the tools it needs to break into the iPhone, and shouldn't ask for backdoors

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2020
Demands from the FBI and Attorney General William Barr for Apple to provide more help to the ongoing Pensacola shooter investigation did not need to be made, as security experts have pointed out the existence of hacking tools that could have granted access to locked iPhones -- which law enforcement has at their disposal already.

Cellebrite's Universal Forensic Extraction Device, a tool used to acquire data from connected smartphones
Cellebrite's Universal Forensic Extraction Device, a tool used to acquire data from connected smartphones


The week-ago query from the FBI and Monday's demand from Barr, subsequently followed by Apple denying the request, has raised the question of how easy it is to gain access to the contents of an iPhone in an emergency. While previous demands, such as during the time of San Bernardino, would have been made due to a lack of other options available to law enforcement agencies, the latest urging arrives at a time when alternatives are available.

Security experts and forensic examiners told the Wall Street Journal tools from Grayshift, Cellebrite, and others provided ways to access the contents of a locked iPhone. This is a reversal of possibilities within a few years, as previously the experts said the iPhone's security was unable to be beaten with technology and methods available at the time.

"We've got the tools to extract data from an iPhone 5 and 7 now," forensic firm Garrett Discovery CEO Andy Garrett claims. "Everybody does."

The tools themselves are, at least for governments and law enforcement agencies, reasonably priced, with the potential cost of software and hardware needed to gain access believed to be around $15,000 and below. Previously, the FBI was alleged to have spent in the region of $1 million, paying a third-party firm to access an iPhone 5C at the heart of the San Bernardino investigation.

In terms of expenditure, federal procurement records reveal the FBI alone has spent more than $1 million on Grayshift products to crack open devices.

The lower barrier to entry to access a smartphone's contents has made it cheap enough for states to use the same tools. In one example, Georgia's Gwinnett Country accessed around 300 phones in 2018, and has started to reopen cold cases by accessing previously unreadable devices.

"It's really opened the door for us in our investigation," said district attorney investigator Chris Ford, who also says his offer is now producing three times as much forensics data than it did before it acquired Grayshift tools.

Forensic experts are also suggesting these phone-hacking tools are undermining calls by the Justice Department, government officials, and other high-ranking members of law enforcement for manufacturers to make it easier to access data on devices.

This includes repeated demands for Apple and others to add encryption backdoors, supposedly in such a way that only law enforcement can gain access to stored data while still maintaining security. Tech companies and critics of the idea counter that adding any backdoors at all will weaken it overall, with no guarantee that access to any purposefully-included backdoors won't fall into the wrong hands.

Apple's security is no longer deemed to be delaying investigations as much as they previously did, the experts believe. SANS Institute digital forensics instructor Sarah Edwards said "It's a cat-and-mouse game. Apple locks things, but if someone wants to find a way to get into these devices, they will find a way."

Backdoors Are Not The Answer

The battles between law enforcement and criminals have waged as long as civilization has existed. Law enforcement gets better, so crooks up their game. As the crooks advance, so does law enforcement.

Once again, in the interest of expediency, the government wants a leg up on the crooks by forcing tech companies to make encryption backdoors and unlock smartphones on demand. Once again, Apple is telling the feds to get bent. Tech firms work to make us safer and Apple, at least, wants us to maintain privacy.

Apple's stance and hard line on this matter, again, benefits us all. It does make the job of the agency responsible for one aspect of our safety harder, and until now, apparently, they've always been up to the challenge of developing countermeasures to find and deal with the bad guys.

And, if the reports of the perpetrator's phones being an iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 are correct, this problem is already solved. The Secure Enclave isn't an issue for law enforcement in the iPhone 5, so that's an easier break. While the iPhone 7 does have one, the 'Checkm8' exploit, properly leveraged and given enough time provides a way to defeat that element.

The FBI can use one of its contractors to break into the phone now. They proved with the San Bernardino case that they can, and will, do this.

Barr apparently wants to use these phones as a political point-maker. If he gets what he wants, he makes us all to less safe day-to-day. In his role as United States' Attorney General, he should know this. As it stands, he either doesn't know this, or knows it and doesn't care, and we're not sure which is worse.

Like Apple says, there is no backdoor limited only to the good guys. If it exists, it will be found by the bad guys.

In the interest of law enforcement expediency, encryption backdoors weaken the safety of the public as a whole. There are other avenues available now, and they work and will break into these phones, assuming that they don't have bullet holes in them.

What has holes for sure, though, are Barr's and the FBI's arguments for encryption back doors. US law enforcement absolutely has the means and will to get into the phones without them.
steven n.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 37
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,833member
    I think Apple has done a fantastic job of developing secured devices across many generations of hardware and iOS. Seems to work flawlessly for the most part, so hats off to them for their excellent engineering.

    JFC_PAFLMusicjony0cornchipdewmeorthorimurahara
  • Reply 2 of 37
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,725member
    <blockquote> Like Apple says, there is no backdoor limited only to the good guys. If it exists, it will be found by the bad guys. </blockquote>

    I am sure that these cracking devices are already in the hands of criminals. Apple and others have to keep working to close the holes these things use.
    edited January 2020 jony0toysandmedewmeorthorimuraharashamino
  • Reply 3 of 37
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,544member
    Having hacking phone tool into the hands of bad actors can hurt so many innocent people and most you may not able to track or prove. It's night mare stopping bad people with dangerous tool.
  • Reply 4 of 37
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
  • Reply 5 of 37
    JFC_PAJFC_PA Posts: 627member
    DAalseth said:
    <blockquote> Like Apple says, there is no backdoor limited only to the good guys. If it exists, it will be found by the bad guys.</blockquote>

    I am sure that these cracking devices are already in the hands of criminals. Apple and others have to keep working to close the holes these things use.
    Yes, reportedly they have shown up for sale on the web. Iirc some later ones do include an authentication sequence back to the manufacturer but I expect that’s defeatable. 
  • Reply 6 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,260administrator
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Good news. Tech companies do work with law enforcement. The FBI had the contents of the shooter's iCloud account less than 24 hours after the incident.
    thtchiabaconstangjony0StrangeDaysCloudTalkindewmetmaychasmEsquireCats
  • Reply 7 of 37
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Tech companies (like Apple) already work with law enforcement.  With regards to iPhone and iPad considerable data is held on iCloud.  With court orders that information is passed on to law enforcement.

    What law enforcement wants is backdoors into all devices.  They also don’t want to go though the courts to get that data.  Even if the public could trust governments to not abuse backdoors, there is no way to make a backdoor secure.  By its very nature is a security vulnerability.  The other problem is government agency have proven again and again they can’t secure information.  Sometimes it’s internal personnel and sometimes is contractors (who are used heavily) but the tools they’ve developed & the vulnerabilities they’ve discovered get leaked.

    If Apple put in place a backdoor into their produces it’s only a matter of time before the bad guys get it.  Think about it.  This isn’t just your information.  This is 90% of the CEO’s in America (etc).  This is access to all the IP that is the foundation of our economy.

    Attorney General William Barr and everyone like him are fools.  In exchange for saving themselves a bit of work, they’re willing to greatly increase the risk to everyone.  These guys making these demands are politicians and don’t have a clue.

    baconstangjony0StrangeDaysgeorgie01cornchipchasmuraharayoyo2222steven n.shamino
  • Reply 8 of 37
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 1,216member
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.

    Has Apple ever been unwilling to work with law enforcement? Creating and giving the government a permanent backdoor is not working with them. I am not sure you are seeing this for what it really is.
    seanismorrisjony0cornchipuraharayoyo2222
  • Reply 9 of 37
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 267member
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Good news. Tech companies do work with law enforcement. The FBI had the contents of the shooter's iCloud account less than 24 hours after the incident.
    It's good to remember that law enforcement varies. There's law enforcement in China, there's law enforcement in Russia, there's law enforcement in Syria, and so on. I think we can assume that once the precedent is set, other nations will expect the same treatment. They have "terrorists", too.
    chiabaconstangjony0anantksundarampscooter63uraharaFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 10 of 37
    I think Apple has done a fantastic job of developing secured devices across many generations of hardware and iOS. Seems to work flawlessly for the most part, so hats off to them for their excellent engineering.

    Given the number of public jailbreaks around, that is a grave simplification. Both Apple and the hacking/jb world do a great jobs but are on a cat and mouse game.
    It’s only the iPhone XS/11 generation that is an unbroken fortress - thus far
  • Reply 11 of 37
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    There is an old saying that is very applicable here.
    "Give them an Inch and they'll take a Mile"

    Apple should keep on saying no way.
    baconstang
  • Reply 12 of 37
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Good news. Tech companies do work with law enforcement. The FBI had the contents of the shooter's iCloud account less than 24 hours after the incident.

    What privacy? Apple admits to scanning user photos

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqfng


  • Reply 13 of 37
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,574member
    That the FBI spent a million dollars cracking the dead San Bernardino shooter's phone is so out of control. Think about how much manpower that could afford far more investigations than adding to the bill of an investigation of a dead guy (which was though to be an office place shooting rather than politically motivated terrorism, as I recall). Even true terrorism is still a minute number of fatalities, the whole thing is just the latest boogeyman scare tactic, and smoke screen for government departments (law enforcement) seizing more power. They don't need it. They have more tools and analytics than ever before, enough to do their jobs.

    And least I be labeled an anarchist, I spent years of my career writing law enforcement software for government. (I work for the federal government now, but no longer write law enforcement software.)
    edited January 2020 baconstangleftoverbacon
  • Reply 14 of 37
    Demands from the FBI and Attorney General William Barr for Apple to provide more help to the ongoing Pensacola shooter investigation did not need to be made, as security experts have pointed out the existence of hacking tools that could have granted access to locked iPhones -- which law enforcement has at their disposal already.
    This isn't about a single iPhone.  It's not about this particular incident.

    It's about getting access to every single iPhone on the planet, whenever they want, whether they have an immediate need or not.  This incident is important only as a pry bar to attempt to force Apple to given them a back door.
     
    baconstangshaminoFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 15 of 37
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,005member
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Just like the guardrails which were in place to keep the FBI from spying on American using the FISA court and misrepresenting the facts to the courts. Yeah they work really well. 

    Plus the FBI asking for the phone to be unlocked is only being done since they know Apple will turn it down, this just reinforces a narrative the FBI can not get into the phone when is fact this is not 100% true. This helps keep the criminals thinking their stuff is safe on their phone. 

    When the Police and FBI request support from a company either on a warrant or back channel this is all kept out of the public eyes. There is no reason the public needs to know who or what the Police or FBI are investigating. These warrant using have statement that say the company can not publicly speak about what the law enforcing is investigating. Apple only shares how many requests they get and how many the were legal able to comply with. Knowing this, why would the FBI make a public request to seek information, it is call politics and there are other reason to make this request.
    StrangeDayspscooter63baconstanguraharashamino
  • Reply 16 of 37
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,574member
    toysandme said:
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Good news. Tech companies do work with law enforcement. The FBI had the contents of the shooter's iCloud account less than 24 hours after the incident.

    What privacy? Apple admits to scanning user photos

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqfng

    Those are iCloud photos. Yes, if someone uploads child porn to iCloud, they're going to shut it down. 

    If you watch your own video, it's believed they aren't looking at the content of every photo, but instead evaluate a string-based hash of your iCloud photos and compare it to a master list of child porn image hashes. This hashing is similar to how TouchID and FaceID work. All the apps on the iOS App Store do image scanning like this, to prevent child pornographers from exchanging photos in Facebook, Twitter, various chat apps, etc.
    edited January 2020 anantksundaramcornchipuraharamuthuk_vanalingamFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 17 of 37
    toysandme said:
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Good news. Tech companies do work with law enforcement. The FBI had the contents of the shooter's iCloud account less than 24 hours after the incident.

    What privacy? Apple admits to scanning user photos

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqfng

    Those are iCloud photos. Yes, if someone uploads child porn to iCloud, they're going to shut it down. 

    If you watch your own video, it's believed they aren't looking at the content of every photo, but instead evaluate a string-based hash of your iCloud photos and compare it to a master list of child porn image hashes. This hashing is similar to how TouchID and FaceID work. All the apps on the iOS App Store do image scanning like this, to prevent child pornographers from exchanging photos in Facebook, Twitter, various chat apps, etc.
    Actually if you watch further, they argue about this because Apple isn't clear about what they are doing or how they are doing it.  Apple talks about scanning and not about hashes in their policy - one of the guys states.  That said, I believe you are correct. I believe they are using hashes of images to compare them against a database of hashes of known child porn images such as NCMEC. By doing this, one can connect an image to a case that has already been prosecuted, with known victims, etc. 
  • Reply 18 of 37
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Tech companies work with law enforcement around the world all the time.  They publish their transparency reports every trailing 6 months.  Here's Apple's.  Here's Google's.  Here's Microsoft's.  Pick a large US tech company and you'll most likely be able to see the extent of their working with law enforcement through their transparency reports.  

    Working with law enforcement has never, does not, and hopefully never will mean providing a backdoor (software skeleton key) into devices.  That would be exceedingly dumb... and dangerous.  As others have pointed out, the skeleton key never remains in the hands of the intended.  Even if it could, the chances that those hands don't abuse it are Slim and None.  Slim was garroted and None just tossed the piano wire.
    baconstang
  • Reply 19 of 37
    williamh said:
    toysandme said:
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    Good news. Tech companies do work with law enforcement. The FBI had the contents of the shooter's iCloud account less than 24 hours after the incident.

    What privacy? Apple admits to scanning user photos

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqfng

    Those are iCloud photos. Yes, if someone uploads child porn to iCloud, they're going to shut it down. 

    If you watch your own video, it's believed they aren't looking at the content of every photo, but instead evaluate a string-based hash of your iCloud photos and compare it to a master list of child porn image hashes. This hashing is similar to how TouchID and FaceID work. All the apps on the iOS App Store do image scanning like this, to prevent child pornographers from exchanging photos in Facebook, Twitter, various chat apps, etc.
    Actually if you watch further, they argue about this because Apple isn't clear about what they are doing or how they are doing it.  Apple talks about scanning and not about hashes in their policy - one of the guys states.  That said, I believe you are correct. I believe they are using hashes of images to compare them against a database of hashes of known child porn images such as NCMEC. By doing this, one can connect an image to a case that has already been prosecuted, with known victims, etc. 
    I watched the whole thing before commenting. Yes the other guy says "We don't know", but it's still believed to be how it works, which is what I said.
    edited January 2020 shamino
  • Reply 20 of 37
    BxBorn said:
    I'm in the minority but I don't see an issue with tech companies working with law enforcement. Guardrails need to be in place and enforced like everything else but if there are situations where unlocking the phones means putting a serial pedophile in jail or preventing more people from being killed then tech companies should be willing partner with law enforcement. By forcing law enforcement to 3rd parties you're only increasing the likelihood of abusing the ability to access locked devices.
    I'd be more sympathetic to AG Barr's point of view if he would outlaw paper shredders and ban lighters and matches. If Apple would provide a backdoor to its encrypted messages, the so-called bad guys would use encryption tools not under the purview of the US or Apple.
    cornchip
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