FBI Has Still Not Managed to Unlock iPhone Used by Mass Shooter in Florida Last Year

FBI officials have still not managed to unlock a passcode-protected iPhone that investigators believe was owned by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the perpetrator of a mass shooting at a Naval Air Station in Florida in December.


The disclosure was made by FBI director Christopher Wray at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today, according to Bloomberg. Wray told Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) that the FBI is "currently engaged with Apple hoping to see if we can get better help from them so we can get access to that phone," the report claims.

Last month, the FBI asked Apple for its assistance with unlocking the iPhone in a letter sent to the company's chief lawyer Katherine Adams.

U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr have called on Apple to assist the FBI with accessing data on the iPhone, but the company previously said that it has given investigators "all of the data in our possession" and said it "will continue to support them with the data we have available."

In a follow-up statement, Apple said that while it was "devastated to learn of the tragic terrorist attack" at the Naval Air Station, creating a backdoor into iOS would threaten national security in the United States:
We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys. Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users' data.
Apple faced a similar situation in 2016, when a U.S. federal judge ordered the company to help the FBI unlock an iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino, California. Apple opposed the order, noting that it would set a "dangerous precedent."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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New York Law Enforcement Officials Operate $10 Million Lab Designed to Crack iPhones

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. built and oversees a $10 million high-tech forensics lab built expressly for the purpose for cracking iPhones, according to a new profile done by Fast Company.

The lab is equipped with "mind-bending hardware" and a team of technology experts, many of whom are ex-military. The facility itself features a radiofrequency isolation chamber that prevents iPhones being used in investigations from being accessed remotely to keep them from being wiped.


Vance's team has thousands of iPhones at the facility in various stages of being cracked. There's a supercomputer that generates 26 million random passcodes per second, a robot that can remove memory chips without using heat, and specialized tools for repairing damaged devices to make them accessible once again.

All of the iPhones are hooked up to computers that are generating passcodes in an effort to get into the iPhones, and sometimes that requires going through tens of thousands of number combinations. Those who work at the facility, including director Steven Moran, also attempt to narrow down possibilities using birthdays, significant dates, and other info that could be used in each specific case for an iPhone passcode.

Proprietary workflow software tracks all of the iPhones at the facility, including their software and their importance, for the purpose of deciding which ‌iPhone‌ to work on and which might be able to be cracked using a newly found third-party solution.

Vance has been a major critic of Apple and has called on the government to introduce anti-encryption legislation to make it easier for law enforcement officials to get into iPhones needed for criminal investigations. According to Vance, 82 percent of smartphones that come into the unit are locked, and his cybercrime lab can crack "about half."

Apple's frequent software updates continually make breaking into iPhones harder by making the process more complicated, which can make it close to impossible to breach an ‌iPhone‌ in a timely manner. "The problem with that, particularly from a law enforcement perspective, is, first of all, time matters to us," said Vance.

Vance believes that it's "not fair" that Apple and Google can prevent law enforcement officials from accessing smartphones. Vance says that law enforcement is entrusted with a responsibility to "protect the public" but Apple and Google have limited access to information "just because they say so." Vance is of the opinion that there should be a "balance" between protecting user privacy and getting justice for victims of crimes.
"That's not their call. And it's not their call because there's something bigger here at issue rather than their individual determination of where to balance privacy and public safety. What's bigger is you've got victims and you've got a law enforcement community who have strong imperatives that should be recognized and balanced equally with the subject decision-makers by the heads of Apple and Google. Today, I think it's unbalanced.
Apple's argument is that it provides ‌iPhone‌ data from iCloud without breaking into the ‌iPhone‌ itself, but Vance says that a serious criminal doesn't have an ‌iCloud‌ backup. A user can also choose what information is stored remotely, and "in many cases" smartphones do not backup between the time when a crime takes place and an ‌iPhone‌ is shut off.

Law enforcement officials can also obtain device metadata like the time and location of a phone call from SIM cards or phone carriers, but Moran says that's the difference between being able to read a letter and being limited to just the envelope the letter came in.
"Even if we are lucky enough to get into the cloud or even if we're lucky enough to get some of the metadata, we're still missing an awful lot of important information that's critical to the investigation."
Vance says that he's not "whining" about the encryption problem, but his lab is "not the answer" as most of the U.S. can't afford to do the work that the New York cyber lab does.

Fast Company's profile of Vance's cyber lab comes as Apple is gearing up for another battle with the FBI. Apple has been asked to unlock the iPhones used by Florida shooter Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, and while Apple has provided ‌iCloud‌ data, the company will fight requests to unlock the actual devices.

For more on New York's High Technology Analysis Unit and facility, make sure to check out Fast Company's full profile.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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Apple Reportedly Dropped Plans for End-to-End Encrypted iCloud Backups After FBI Objected

More than two years ago, Apple informed the FBI that it planned to roll out end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups, according to Reuters. Apple ultimately dropped the plan at some point after the FBI objected, although the report notes that it is unclear if the federal agency was a factor in the decision.


A former Apple employee told Reuters that the company did not want to risk scrutiny from public officials for potentially protecting criminals, or promote new legislation against encryption.

"They decided they weren't going to poke the bear anymore," the person said, after Apple's legal battle with the FBI in 2016 over access to an iPhone used in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Apple has taken a hard line on refusing to create a backdoor into iOS that would allow the FBI to unlock password-protected iPhones to assist in their investigations, but it does provide data backed up to iCloud to authorities when lawfully requested, as outlined its in semiannual Transparency Reports.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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Donald Trump Calls on Apple to ‘Step Up to the Plate’ and Unlock iPhones Used by Florida Mass Shooter

United States President Donald Trump this afternoon weighed in on a disagreement between Apple and the FBI, calling on Apple to "step up to the plate" and "help our great country" by unlocking the iPhones used by Florida shooter Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.

Trump said that the U.S. is "helping Apple all of the time" but Apple refuses to "unlock" smartphones used by "killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements."


The Twitter rant comes following a request yesterday from U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who asked Apple to unlock the iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 used by Alshamrani. Barr complained that Apple had provided "no substantive assistance" and said that it is critical "that the public be able to get access to digital evidence."


Apple previously said that it had provided all of the information in its possession (such as iCloud backups) to the FBI earlier in the month after the FBI asked for assistance obtaining the shooter's data. Law enforcement officials are not satisfied with the iCloud data, however, and want Apple to provide a way to unlock the shooter's iPhones, which is not possible without a backdoor into the software.

After Barr's request, Apple issued another statement and provided further detail on the data that has been provided, as well as once again stating that there is "no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys." Apple's full response to Barr that ultimately triggered Trump's tweet is below:
We were devastated to learn of the tragic terrorist attack on members of the US armed services at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida on December 6th. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and routinely work with police across the country on their investigations. When law enforcement requests our assistance, our teams work around the clock to provide them with the information we have.

We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.

Within hours of the FBI's first request on December 6th, we produced a wide variety of information associated with the investigation. From December 7th through the 14th, we received six additional legal requests and in response provided information including ‌iCloud‌ backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts.

We responded to each request promptly, often within hours, sharing information with FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York. The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we turned over to investigators. In every instance, we responded with all of the information that we had.

The FBI only notified us on January 6th that they needed additional assistance -- a month after the attack occurred. Only then did we learn about the existence of a second ‌iPhone‌ associated with the investigation and the FBI's inability to access either ‌iPhone‌. It was not until January 8th that we received a subpoena for information related to the second ‌iPhone‌, which we responded to within hours. Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options.

We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance. Apple has great respect for the Bureau's work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation.

We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys. Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users' data.
The current dispute between Apple and the U.S. government mirrors a similar incident in 2016. Apple was ordered by a federal judge to unlock the iPhone owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Apple fought hard against the order, which was asking for backdoor access into iPhones, and explained that weakening security "makes no sense" and would create "new and dangerous weaknesses."

Apple ultimately won the dispute and the government was able to find another way to access Farook's iPhone, which may also be an option in the current situation. Bloomberg this afternoon spoke to several security researchers, including Will Strafach, who said the government could "absolutely" get into the iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 owned by Alshamrani using technology offered by Cellebrite and other iPhone cracking firms.

As in 2016, Apple is not likely to cave in to government demands because doing so would compromise the security of all iPhones. A new report from The New York Times suggests Apple is privately preparing for a legal fight while also attempting to publicly diffuse the situation.

Apple executives are said to be surprised at the case's "quick escalation" and some of the team working on the issue are frustrated that the Justice Department "hasn’t spent enough time trying to get into the iPhones with third-party tools." Apple CEO Tim Cook has put together a team handling the dispute, and the group is said to be hoping to steer the situation towards an outside resolution that "doesn’t involve the company breaking its own security."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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U.S. Attorney General Asks Apple to Unlock iPhones Used by Florida Mass Shooter

United States Attorney General William Barr today asked Apple to unlock the iPhones used in mass shooting last month at a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida, reports The New York Times.

The request comes as the shooting has been declared an act of terrorism, and it follows a report last week that the FBI sent a letter to Apple asking for help accessing two iPhones used by shooter Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.

"This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence," Mr. Barr said, calling on Apple and other technology companies to find a solution and complaining that Apple has provided no "substantive assistance."
Apple has already provided law enforcement officials with information from Alshamrani's iCloud account, but the two iPhones are passcode protected (one is also damaged from gunfire) and Apple has in he past taken a strong position against providing access to locked iPhones.

Apple last week said that it had already provided all of the information in its possession to the FBI.
We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations. When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available.
Justice department officials claim to need access to the iPhones to see messages from encrypted apps like Signal or WhatsApp to find out if Alshamrani discussed his plans or had help.

In 2016, Apple had a major showdown with the U.S. government after being ordered by a federal judge to unlock the iPhone owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Apple fought hard against the order asking for backdoor access into iPhones and said that it would create "new and dangerous weaknesses" and that weakening security "makes no sense."

Apple ultimately won the dispute and the government found an alternate way to access the ‌iPhone‌ in question.

Apple is now facing a similar battle as the company's statement last week suggests it has no plans to unlock the two iPhones and the attorney general has said that he is prepared for a fight.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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FBI Reportedly Asks Apple to Help Unlock Passcode-Protected iPhones Used by Mass Shooter in Florida

In a letter sent late Monday to Apple's general counsel Katherine Adams, the FBI has asked Apple to help unlock two iPhones that investigators believe were owned by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who carried out a mass shooting at a Naval Air Station in Florida last month, according to NBC News.


The report claims the iPhones are passcode protected, and one of them appears to be damaged by gunfire. In a statement to NBC News, Apple said it has already provided all of the data in its possession to the FBI:
We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations. When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available.
Apple faced a similar situation in 2016, when a U.S. federal judge ordered the company to help the FBI hack into the iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino, California. Apple opposed the order, noting that it would set a "dangerous precedent" with security risks.

Apple's dispute with the FBI ended in just weeks after the U.S. government found an alternate way to access the data on the iPhone through the help of Israeli firm Cellebrite and withdrew the lawsuit.

Based on its statement, it appears that Apple will continue to take a hard line on refusing to unlock iPhones for the FBI.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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FBI ‘Grossly Inflated’ Statistics on Investigations Stymied by Encrypted Smartphones

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation provided Congress with "grossly inflated" statistics on the number of electronic devices it has been been unable to access due to encryption, reports The Washington Post.

Last year, the FBI claimed to have been locked out of close to 7,800 devices that were connected to crimes, but the actual number of devices that were inaccessible is smaller, closer in scope to between 1,000 and 2,000. The FBI discovered an error in the method used for counting encrypted smartphones last month, and has not yet completed a full internal audit to determine the correct number.

"The FBI's initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported," the FBI said in a statement Tuesday. The bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of the same phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.
The FBI's inflated numbers are a problem because FBI director Christopher Wray has, at several points in time, used those statistics to warn of the dangers criminals using encryption to "go dark" and evade law enforcement oversight.

Back in October, for example, Wray said the inability to access such a large number of encrypted smartphones was a major problem. "To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem," said Wray. "It impacts investigations across the board - narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation."

In another such speech in January, Wray used the inflated figure to describe encryption as an "urgent public safety issue."
"While the FBI and law enforcement happen to be on the front lines of this problem, this is an urgent public safety issue for all of us. Because as horrifying as 7,800 in one year sounds, it's going to be a lot worse in just a couple of years if we don't find a responsible solution."
These kinds of statistics have also been used by the FBI to advocate for backdoors into encrypted devices like the iPhone.

In 2016, for example, Apple and the FBI had now-famous dispute over the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI demanded that Apple create a tool to allow law enforcement officials to disable passcode security features so they could hack into the device, effectively weakening its protection.

Apple staunchly refused and argued that such a request could set a "dangerous precedent," a position the company has maintained since then as law enforcement officials have continued to advocate for backdoor device access.

Apple, as part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, recently released a statement condemning proposals for backdoors into electronic devices, and in March, Apple engineering chief Craig Federighi said that backdoor access would "inject new and dangerous weaknesses into product security."

"Weakening security makes no sense when you consider that customers rely on our products to keep their personal information safe, run their businesses or even manage vital infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems," Federighi said.

Despite the FBI's error counting the number of encrypted devices it has been unable to access during criminal investigations, the agency maintained that encryption is a "serious problem" in a statement to The Washington Post.

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

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Anti-Surveillance Coalition That Includes Apple Condemns Proposals for Device Backdoors

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which includes several major tech companies who have teamed up to lobby for surveillance law reform, this week released a statement condemning recent proposals for backdoor access into electronic devices and reaffirming a commitment to strong encryption.

The coalition is made up of multiple tech companies who have taken a strong stance against weakening encryption, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Snap, Evernote, LinkedIn, Oath (owned by Verizon) and Facebook.
Reform Government Surveillance recently announced a new core principle on encryption that will guide our advocacy efforts, and we continue to believe that strong encryption helps protect the security and privacy of individuals and companies around the world. We have consistently raised concerns about proposals that would undermine encryption of devices and services by requiring so-called "exceptional access" for law enforcement. Recent reports have described new proposals to engineer vulnerabilities into devices and services - but they appear to suffer from the same technical and design concerns that security researchers have identified for years. Weakening the security and privacy that encryption helps provide is not the answer.
As ZDNet points out, the statement comes following a WIRED article profiling Microsoft chief technical Ray Ozzie and his suggestion for a solution called "Clear" that would supposedly provide law enforcement with access to encrypted data with less security risk.

Ozzie's proposal uses a public key and a private key (housed and protected by a company like Apple) that are used to encrypt and decrypt a PIN generated on the device. No one is meant to be able to decode and use the PIN to unlock the device aside from the vendor, using the aforementioned private key.
So, say the FBI needs the contents of an iPhone. First the Feds have to actually get the device and the proper court authorization to access the information it contains--Ozzie's system does not allow the authorities to remotely snatch information. With the phone in its possession, they could then access, through the lock screen, the encrypted PIN and send it to Apple.

Armed with that information, Apple would send highly trusted employees into the vault where they could use the private key to unlock the PIN. Apple could then send that no-longer-secret PIN back to the government, who can use it to unlock the device.
Ozzie demonstrated his "Clear" solution to representatives from tech companies that included Apple, Google and Facebook, according to WIRED, but unsurprisingly, none of them had "any interest whatsoever" in voluntarily implementing that kind of access into their devices and services.

The coalition Apple is a part of in April published a core principle pledging to ensure device security through strong encryption and calling on governments to avoid taking actions that would require companies to "create any security vulnerabilities in their produces and services."
Strong encryption of devices and services protects the sensitive data of our users - including individuals, corporations, and governments. Strong encryption also promotes free expression and the free flow of information around the world. Requiring technology companies to engineer vulnerabilities into their products and services would undermine the security and privacy of our users, as well as the world's information technology infrastructure. Governments should avoid any action that would require companies to create any security vulnerabilities in their products and services.
The renewed activity from the Reform Government Surveillance group follows reports that have suggested law enforcement officials are quietly revisiting proposals that would require tech companies to add backdoor access into electronic devices for use by law enforcement officials.

FBI and DOJ officials have been meeting with security researchers with the aim of developing approaches that would offer "extraordinary access" to encrypted devices like the iPhone, with DOJ officials reportedly "convinced" there is a way to create a backdoor without weakening a device's defense against hacking.

Apple software engineering chief Craig Federighi recently said that this kind of backdoor access would "inject new and dangerous weaknesses into product security."

"Weakening security makes no sense when you consider that customers rely on our products to keep their personal information safe, run their businesses or even manage vital infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems," Federighi said.

Apple vehemently opposes backdoor solutions like the one Ozzie proposed because they have the potential to weaken device encryption and provide new ways for bad actors to access device data.

Apple's strong stance against weakened device protections for the sake of law enforcement access was highlighted in the 2016 Apple vs. FBI conflict that saw Apple refuse to create a backdoor access solution to allow the FBI to crack the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

GrayKey iPhone unlocking box via MalwareBytes

Without device backdoors, law enforcement officials have still found ways to crack devices like iPhones through other means. At the current time, for example, agencies like the FBI and DOJ have access to an iPhone unlocking box called GrayKey, which is capable of unlocking Apple's most recent iPhones running modern versions of iOS.

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‘GrayKey’ iPhone Unlocking Box Seeing Wide Adoption Among Law Enforcement

GrayShift's recently publicized "GrayKey" box designed to crack locked iPhones is seeing wide adoption among police forces and federal agencies across the United States according to a recent investigation by Motherboard.

Motherboard found that regional police forces like the Maryland State Police, the Indiana State Police, and the Miami-Dade County Police have purchased or are soon purchasing GrayKey technology, while other forces like the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department have looked into boxes and received quotes from GrayShift.

GrayKey box, via MalwareBytes

The Secret Service is also planning to purchase "at least half a dozen" GrayKey boxes for unlocking iPhones, while the State Department has already bought them and the Drug Enforcement Administration has expressed interest.

Current FBI Director Christopher Wray said in January at the International Conference on Cyber Security that law enforcement officials are facing a "Going Dark" challenge where an "enormous" number of cases rely on an electronic device. "We're increasingly unable to access that evidence, despite lawful authority to do so," said Wray.

Motherboard's investigation into GrayShift, the GrayKey iPhone unlocking boxes, and other smartphone unlocking methods suggest that is not the case. The FBI uses the going dark debate to advocate for easier access to electronic devices through backdoors, but the seemingly readily available tools like GrayKey undermine these arguments.
"It demonstrates that even state and local police do have access to this data in many situations," Matthew Green, an assistant professor and cryptographer at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, told Motherboard in a Twitter message. "This seems to contradict what the FBI is saying about their inability to access these phones."

"The availability and affordability of these tools undercuts law enforcement's continual assertions that they need smartphone vendors to be forced to build 'exceptional access' capabilities into their devices," Riana Pfefferkorn, cryptography fellow at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, told Motherboard in a Twitter message.
In recent months, law enforcement officials have been quietly revisiting proposals that would require tech companies to build backdoor access into smartphones and other electronics, something Apple vehemently fought against back in 2016 following the San Bernardino shooting where the FBI attempted to order the company to provide it with a tool to crack the iPhone 5c involved in the case.

As has been previously reported, the GrayKey mentioned by Motherboard is a small, portable gray box that's equipped with dual Lightning cables. An iPhone can be plugged into one of the cables to install proprietary software that's able to guess the passcode for an iPhone in either a few hours or a few days, depending on the strength of the passcode.

Once the GrayKey software has unlocked an iPhone, it can be plugged back into the GrayKey box to download all of the data on the iPhone. GrayKey can crack the latest iPhones running modern versions of iOS, including iOS 11, providing law enforcement officials with easy access to locked iPhones for criminal investigations.

Grayshift charges $15,000 for a GrayKey box that requires internet connectivity, is geofenced to a specific location, and allows for 300 unlocks, or $30,000 for a box that requires no connection, can be used anywhere, and can unlock an unlimited number of devices.

As Motherboard points out, the technology used in the GrayKey boxes may eventually be outdated through updates to the iOS operating system, leading to periods where some versions of iOS may be difficult to access. Because of the ongoing cat and mouse game of Apple patching a vulnerability as third-party iPhone cracking services look for new methods to get into iPhones, the argument for backdoors into smartphones is likely to surface time and time again.

Motherboard's full report on the iPhone unlocking tools available to law enforcement officials can be viewed over on the website.

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FBI Didn’t Investigate All Unlocking Options Before Seeking Order for Apple’s Help in San Bernardino Case

Back in early 2016, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to pursue all possible solutions to unlock the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook before demanding Apple's help accessing the device, reports Reuters.

The information was shared today in a report issued by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General.


According to the report, the FBI's in-house unit that handles breaking into mobile devices did not begin looking for outside help to unlock Farook's iPhone until the night before the FBI demanded Apple's help through a court filing.

The FBI was aware that one of the vendors contacted at that point in time had "almost 90 percent completed" a technical solution that would allow the FBI access to the phone. The FBI, though, in its court filing with Apple at the time, said there were no other options for accessing the device.

A judge ended up ordering Apple to help federal investigators access the data on Farook's iPhone by creating a tool that would bypass the auto-erase function and allow investigators to submit an unlimited number of passwords to attempt to unlock the iPhone.

Apple, of course, opposed the order and refused to build such a tool, leading to a long and drawn out legal battle with the FBI that only ended when the FBI admitted it had indeed found another way to access the device.

Communication failures at the FBI were to blame, causing some officials to "misunderstand the status" of the FBI's efforts to open the device. That led to delays seeking help from the FBI and the vendor that was ultimately able to unlock the iPhone.

The report from the Department of Justice comes as some law enforcement officials are again pushing for backdoor access into electronic devices to aid in criminal investigations.

Both DOJ and FBI officials have been quietly meeting with security researchers to explore technology that would allow "extraordinary access" to encrypted devices like the iPhone without weakening a device's defenses against hacking.

Earlier this week, Apple's Craig Federighi reiterated Apple's stance that such a backdoor would be dangerous. "Weakening security makes no sense when you consider that customers rely on our products to keep their personal information safe, run their businesses or even manage vital infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems," he said.

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