Cellebrite trains law enforcement to maintain iPhone-hacking secrets

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in iOS

Cellebrite, the firm behind forensic devices used by law enforcement agencies to access data on seized iPhones, attempted to keep its technology secrets hidden, by telling its users to keep the hardware's existence as "hush hush as possible."




Law enforcement agencies do sometimes need to access data stored on a smartphone, but the onboard security of the iPhone means they often have to turn to tools from companies like Cellebrite. It seems that Cellebrite has attempted to maintain the secrecy of its products for years, and even urges the end users of the systems to keep quiet about it.

Part of the affair involves an agreement between Cellebrite and law enforcement agencies buying its products to keep the technology it uses secret, according to TechCrunch. A training video for Cellebrite's devices goes one step further, telling the user of the hardware to stay quiet too.

"Ultimately, you've extracted the data, it's the data that solves the crime, how you got in, let's try to keep that as hush hush as possible," a senior Cellebrite employee explains in the video. "We don't really want any techniques to leak in court through disclosure practices, or you know, ultimately in testimony, when you are sitting in the stand, producing all this evidence and discussing how you got into the phone."

Cellebrite has some reasons for wanting secrecy, with the in-video employee explaining leakage "can be harmful to the entire law enforcement community globally." This includes any leaks of how access to a device or decrypting specific messaging apps, since this could supposedly push criminals on to platforms that may be "much more difficult or impossible to overcome."

The request for secrecy from Cellebrite is somewhat troubling to legal professionals since there is supposed to be transparency from authorities to enable judges to authorize searches or the use of certain types of data in court as evidence. By keeping it secret, experts claim defendants have their rights eroded due to a need for the accused to have the ability to understand how the devices work in the first place.

This would also include allowing defense attorneys to determine if there were legal issues in obtaining the evidence in the first place.

Cellebrite spokesperson Victor Cooper insisted to the report that it is "committed to support ethical law enforcement," and that the tools are made "with the utmost respect for the chain of custody and judicial process."

The company does not advise its customers "to act in contravention with any law, legal requirements, or other forensic standards," the spokesperson continued. While keen to continue to protect its trade secrets and to expect its clients to do the same, Cellebrite will also "permanently continue developing our training and other published materials for the purpose of identifying statements which could be improperly interpreted by listeners."

Read on AppleInsider

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    So as one enters through passport control, your iPhone is "borrowed" for a quick look. All personal information is now in the hands of an unknown person who may or may not be "authorized" to be doing this job by the local governmental agency. Seen lots of variation in the appearance of "border control folks" in our would travels that begs the question "Is this really an official of government?".
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 22
    mayflymayfly Posts: 385member
    ApplePoor said:
    So as one enters through passport control, your iPhone is "borrowed" for a quick look. All personal information is now in the hands of an unknown person who may or may not be "authorized" to be doing this job by the local governmental agency. Seen lots of variation in the appearance of "border control folks" in our would travels that begs the question "Is this really an official of government?".
    No one has ever "borrowed" my iPhone, and I've traveled overseas regularly since 1985. No one I've asked about this has had anyone ask to borrow their phone, either. Where and when did this happen to you? What were you doing when it happened? Was your information stolen? What happened as a result?

    As for your statement, "Seen lots of variation in the appearance of "border control folks" in our would travels that begs the question "Is this really an official of government?", Maybe ask for an ID before giving a stranger your phone? Or tell them "no dice." If they're not an official, you'll know soon. If they are, you'll know even sooner!
    Alex1Nralphiewatto_cobrawilliamhtyler82
  • Reply 3 of 22
    ApplePoor said:
    So as one enters through passport control, your iPhone is "borrowed" for a quick look. All personal information is now in the hands of an unknown person who may or may not be "authorized" to be doing this job by the local governmental agency. Seen lots of variation in the appearance of "border control folks" in our would travels that begs the question "Is this really an official of government?".
    I've also travelled extensively and never has anyone borrowed my phone for a quick look, nor would I allow them, government official or not, without sufficient justification.

    Further to this, to get any information out of your iPhone without you unlocking it, the phone would need to be plugged into a device like the one in the photo at the top of the screen, and the process takes quite a long time. Your iPhone can't be secretly hacked without it being obvious unless you unlock it.

    Perhaps you're being a little too suspicious, or gullible to allow people to borrow your iPhone?
    Alex1Nwatto_cobrawilliamhtyler82
  • Reply 4 of 22
    You guys are living in 2013 or watching too many movies.  

    No one needs to physically borrow your phone to download all the data anymore.  It’s all done remotely, and it’s been that way for several years.

    All the people in the legal evidentiary chain of custody are well aware of Cellebrite, and they have been for years.  Nothing is being done behind anyone’s back.
    edited August 2023 williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 22
    riverkoriverko Posts: 218member
    jcbigears said:
    I've also travelled extensively and never has anyone borrowed my phone for a quick look, nor would I allow them, government official or not, without sufficient justification.

    Further to this, to get any information out of your iPhone without you unlocking it, the phone would need to be plugged into a device like the one in the photo at the top of the screen, and the process takes quite a long time. Your iPhone can't be secretly hacked without it being obvious unless you unlock it.

    Perhaps you're being a little too suspicious, or gullible to allow people to borrow your iPhone?
    May I ask where are you from? If from the US, than that’s understandable you have never experienced that even though it applies to US citizens too. But the probability would be much lower I’d say.
    Because it’s the US immigation, who as the authority to ask to hand over any device unlocked to go through the apps, texts, chats…

    So it it not ‘sufficient justification’. If we want to visit the US and we are asked, we have to do so. Or we may be banned from visiting the US forever…

    Not sure about any other country that has such rules.
    edited August 2023 watto_cobraJanNLappleinsideruser
  • Reply 6 of 22
    You guys are living in 2013 or watching too many movies.  

    No one needs to physically borrow your phone to download all the data anymore.  It’s all done remotely, and it’s been that way for several years.

    All the people in the legal evidentiary chain of custody are well aware of Cellebrite, and they have been for years.  Nothing is being done behind anyone’s back.
    You mind putting any sort of evidence of that capability in the comment?, instead of just posting a random unverifiable comment.
    watto_cobrawilliamlondontyler82StrangeDaysbonobob
  • Reply 7 of 22
    You guys are living in 2013 or watching too many movies.  

    No one needs to physically borrow your phone to download all the data anymore.  It’s all done remotely, and it’s been that way for several years.

    All the people in the legal evidentiary chain of custody are well aware of Cellebrite, and they have been for years.  Nothing is being done behind anyone’s back.
    I must be missing something as a 20+ year law enforcement veteran and digital forensics examiner with Cellebrite certifications, then! [sarcasm]

    There is no remote downloading of device data. You watch too much TV. 




    watto_cobratyler82AmberIsAnIdiotStrangeDays
  • Reply 8 of 22
    riverko said:
    May I ask where are you from? If from the US, than that’s understandable you have never experienced that even though it applies to US citizens too. But the probability would be much lower I’d say.


    May I ask where you are from? I'm from the EU (Germany), I've entered the US > 100 times, and I've never been asked to hand anything physically over for inspection at immigration except my passport.  Customs have asked me to open and show content of luggage multiple times, but even they did not take anything, touched very little and certainly did not connect anything electronic to any device.  I would also like to add that nothing like this has happened to me when entering the UK, China, Israel or any other country where one might expect similar scenarios.

    I understand as well US and other immigration and law enforcement officials have the authority (sometimes with, sometimes without court order or warrant), but it is certainly not common practice.

    I will assume that these tools are mostly used in cases where phones are found during searches, or seized from suspects and those people refuse to unlock their devices. 

    As for this being irrelevant in 2023, I disagree. Of course most of us are using iCloud and/or other cloud services these days and of course if this exists, then that's the go-to method as it is way easier. Cloud providers will hand over everything they have in their possession when ordered, because it's the law in the country where they operate. Laws in the US have been passed by elected representatives. On this matter, there seems to be a tendency that "right-wing" parties have stronger positions in favor of such activity, and if a majority vote by legislative majority, this is what happens (Voters of a certain previous US president who are not in favor of all this when applied to them personally should simply connect the dots and understand that they got what they paid for!). Anyway, at least the more educated among the "bad guys" know that too, and of course for that reason they use cloud services as little as possible. The infamous discussion with Apple having to add back doors was triggered by a specific case of a suspect who had not used any cloud services, but the data was physically on his device, and only there.

    The fact that if you have physical access to something electronic, with sufficient effort, you will be able to get to the data that's stored on it, has pretty much always been there. Chips have been "opened" physically and other extreme methods have been used. To build something that is 100% safe against this is very hard and very expensive, certainly too expensive for a smartphone.

    The discussion in the article is about what it is - a company making tools to make such processes easier for law enforcement, most likely in legally allowed scenarios in multiple countries, and another company - Apple - trying to make this as hard as possible for that company due to its "value add" in customer data privacy, and considering the "It's not possible to make a backdoor that only the good guys can use." stance they've had. All fair play and fine. For me personally: Case closed, and I'm ok with using my iPhone (and iCloud) for now, because I think the balance of all that is still "ok".


    williamlondon
  • Reply 9 of 22
    jimh2jimh2 Posts: 588member
    Back up to iCloud and erase your phone before getting to the airport and then restore when you have left the airport. Repeat on your way home. 
    williamlondonappleinsideruser
  • Reply 10 of 22
    mayflymayfly Posts: 385member
    You guys are living in 2013 or watching too many movies.  

    No one needs to physically borrow your phone to download all the data anymore.  It’s all done remotely, and it’s been that way for several years.

    All the people in the legal evidentiary chain of custody are well aware of Cellebrite, and they have been for years.  Nothing is being done behind anyone’s back.
    You've been watching too many crime shows. I've seen those "just get close enough, and I'll clone it over Bluetooth." And it works in three seconds. None of that has ever happened.
  • Reply 11 of 22
    I must be missing something as a 20+ year law enforcement veteran and digital forensics examiner with Cellebrite certifications, then! [sarcasm]

    There is no remote downloading of device data. You watch too much TV. 
    That rather depends on the value target. There are and have been click less exploits used by the NSA to remotely compromise phones. Due to the speed at which they get fixed once discovered they only get used on high value targets.


  • Reply 12 of 22
    riverko said:
    jcbigears said:
    I've also travelled extensively and never has anyone borrowed my phone for a quick look, nor would I allow them, government official or not, without sufficient justification.

    Further to this, to get any information out of your iPhone without you unlocking it, the phone would need to be plugged into a device like the one in the photo at the top of the screen, and the process takes quite a long time. Your iPhone can't be secretly hacked without it being obvious unless you unlock it.

    Perhaps you're being a little too suspicious, or gullible to allow people to borrow your iPhone?
    May I ask where are you from? If from the US, than that’s understandable you have never experienced that even though it applies to US citizens too. But the probability would be much lower I’d say.
    Because it’s the US immigation, who as the authority to ask to hand over any device unlocked to go through the apps, texts, chats…

    So it it not ‘sufficient justification’. If we want to visit the US and we are asked, we have to do so. Or we may be banned from visiting the US forever…

    Not sure about any other country that has such rules.
    Yup. One reason I’ve never visited the US. For a democracy, it’s not cool.
    darkvader
  • Reply 13 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 2,475member
    ApplePoor said:
    So as one enters through passport control, your iPhone is "borrowed" for a quick look. All personal information is now in the hands of an unknown person who may or may not be "authorized" to be doing this job by the local governmental agency. Seen lots of variation in the appearance of "border control folks" in our would travels that begs the question "Is this really an official of government?".
    Can you name a county where this is mandatory?
  • Reply 14 of 22
    Xed said:
    ApplePoor said:
    So as one enters through passport control, your iPhone is "borrowed" for a quick look. All personal information is now in the hands of an unknown person who may or may not be "authorized" to be doing this job by the local governmental agency. Seen lots of variation in the appearance of "border control folks" in our would travels that begs the question "Is this really an official of government?".
    Can you name a county where this is mandatory?
    China has been known to take phones and install malware/spyware
    darkvaderTheRealAdversarywilliamlondonXed
  • Reply 15 of 22
    mayfly said:
    You guys are living in 2013 or watching too many movies.  

    No one needs to physically borrow your phone to download all the data anymore.  It’s all done remotely, and it’s been that way for several years.

    All the people in the legal evidentiary chain of custody are well aware of Cellebrite, and they have been for years.  Nothing is being done behind anyone’s back.
    You've been watching too many crime shows. I've seen those "just get close enough, and I'll clone it over Bluetooth." And it works in three seconds. None of that has ever happened.
    How about Pegasus or Stingray? Many state-sponsored hacking groups can get into your phone with a no-click attack.  Listen to some of Jack Rhisyder's podcast, where he interviews people who have worked for many of these highly-funded groups.
    TheRealAdversarywilliamlondon
  • Reply 16 of 22
    You guys are living in 2013 or watching too many movies.  

    No one needs to physically borrow your phone to download all the data anymore.  It’s all done remotely, and it’s been that way for several years.

    All the people in the legal evidentiary chain of custody are well aware of Cellebrite, and they have been for years.  Nothing is being done behind anyone’s back.
    You mind putting any sort of evidence of that capability in the comment?, instead of just posting a random unverifiable comment.
    Pegasus
    whitehatwearerTheRealAdversarywilliamlondon
  • Reply 17 of 22
    I was going to suggest Pegasus. It’s available to those with a warrant, it has a proven track record from Israel to the US. Does not require any gadgetry. Believe me, criminals already use it as does China, Russia, North Korea and Iran!
    williamlondon
  • Reply 18 of 22
    anonymouseanonymouse Posts: 6,854member
    "Ultimately, you've extracted the data, it's the data that solves the crime, how you got in, let's try to keep that as hush hush as possible," a senior Cellebrite employee explains in the video. "We don't really want any techniques to leak in court through disclosure practices, or you know, ultimately in testimony, when you are sitting in the stand, producing all this evidence and discussing how you got into the phone." 

    So, Cellebrite is telling them to violate the law and not provide this information in discovery and suborning perjury when testifying?

    A ) This behavior seems criminal.

    B ) This should result in a lot of convictions being thrown out if it's determined law enforcement followed these "guidelines".

    edited August 2023 williamlondonbonobob
  • Reply 19 of 22
    You guys are living in 2013 or watching too many movies.  

    No one needs to physically borrow your phone to download all the data anymore.  It’s all done remotely, and it’s been that way for several years.

    All the people in the legal evidentiary chain of custody are well aware of Cellebrite, and they have been for years.  Nothing is being done behind anyone’s back.
    I must be missing something as a 20+ year law enforcement veteran and digital forensics examiner with Cellebrite certifications, then! [sarcasm]

    There is no remote downloading of device data. You watch too much TV. 


    I guess you forgot about all the lawsuits against NSO for their software Pegasus?

    It's completely remote has multiple attack vectors with options to be installed on Users devices with them never having clicked anything.  Can download information remotely at the speed of the subjects devices connection.   Pegasus also has click able attacks as well.

    Hopefully NSO gets sued out of existence. They wont as all of the governments that use them will keep them funded so they can always have another tool in their arsenal.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 20 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 2,475member
    Xed said:
    ApplePoor said:
    So as one enters through passport control, your iPhone is "borrowed" for a quick look. All personal information is now in the hands of an unknown person who may or may not be "authorized" to be doing this job by the local governmental agency. Seen lots of variation in the appearance of "border control folks" in our would travels that begs the question "Is this really an official of government?".
    Can you name a county where this is mandatory?
    China has been known to take phones and install malware/spyware
    Been known ≠ mandatory for all people traveling. And if that's your only example, a country that isn't usually on the typical person's vacation destination then you and the OP are really grasping at straws to make it seem like traveling or traveling with your smartphone is a bad idea.
    williamlondon
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