Here we go again: Barr says Apple is refusing to cooperate with the FBI

Here we go again: Barr says Apple is refusing to cooperate with the FBI
Last week, we told you that the FBI was requesting Apple's help in unlocking a pair of password-protected iPhones that belong to Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. In what is now being considered a terrorist attack, Alshamrani allegedly killed three people last month at a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida. During a press conference held today by Attorney General William Barr, the Trump administration's top law enforcement official said that Apple has not helped the FBI crack the phones.

Pointing out the two iPhones, which appeared on a poster at Barr's side, the Attorney General said, "Finally, I want to address an issue regarding the shooter's phones. The shooter possessed two Apple iPhones, seen on posters here. Within one day of the shooting, the FBI sought and received court authorization based on probable cause to search both phones in an effort to run down all leads and figure out with whom the shooter was communicating. During the gunfight with first responders, the shooter disengaged long enough to place one of the phones on the floor and shoot a single round into the device. It also appears the other phone was damaged."

Apple moved one step ahead of the cracking machines with iOS 13


Barr continued by adding that "our experts at the FBI crime lab were able to fix both damaged phones so they are operational. However, both phones are engineered to make it virtually impossible to unlock them without the password. It is very important to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died. We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance. This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause. We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks."

Most likely, Apple's decision not to help the FBI unlock the phones matches the same reason it gave for not obeying a federal court ruling in 2016 that demanded that Apple unlock the iPhone 5c that belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Apple would have to develop a special version of iOS and the company feared that if it was leaked out by the FBI, no iPhone would be safe. So the FBI paid Israeli company Cellebrite a reported $1 million to crack open Farook's phone which reportedly held some important information.


It should be pointed out that unlike the events that transpired in 2016, this time Apple has not been ordered by a court to unlock the phones. However, there is a chance that Barr will obtain a court order compelling Apple to open the handsets. When asked whether he plans on doing so, the Attorney General refused to comment.

Perhaps the most important thing that we can take away from the current situation is that companies like Cellebrite and Grayshift apparently are unable to unlock iPhone models running iOS 13 or else Mr. Barr would not have been complaining to the press today about Apple's lack of assistance. Cracking machines use brute force attacks to unlock iPhone models. Plugged into an iPhone's Lightning port, these devices seek to bypass limits on passcode attempts and then try every possible passcode combination until it hits the right one. Apple thought that it had closed this vulnerability with the USB Restricted Mode added in iOS 12. This feature prevented the Lightning port from communicating with other devices if an iPhone not been unlocked within the previous hour. But shortly afterward, Cellebrite's web site was bragging that the company could crack any iOS device from iOS 7 to iOS 12.3. Apple might have moved one step ahead in iOS 13.

It will be interesting to see what happens if Apple continues to defy the FBI. Attorney General Barr is known to be extremely close with President Donald Trump and Trump seems to consider Apple CEO Tim Cook to be someone reasonable he can talk to. We can imagine a scenario in which Barr tells Trump that the iPhones in question need to be opened for the security of the country. Trump calls Cook who explains why it can't be done from Apple's perspective. Back in 2016, when Apple defied the court order demanding that it open Farook's phone, then candidate Trump said that he was boycotting Apple and would start to use Samsung phones. He also said at the time, "It’s ridiculous that the government has to be put in a position where if they have information about a possible attack, we waste a second because that could be the second that kills somebody." Now, with the full weight of the Office of the President behind his statements, who knows what Trump would do to Apple if pressured by Barr.

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24 Comments

1. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2519; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

Have to admit that this makes Apple look really good to privacy conscious consumers.

3. MrMalignance

Posts: 352; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

That it does Dr. Phil, that it does

8. iushnt

Posts: 3175; Member since: Feb 06, 2013

How can Apple miss a chance of this great marketing opportunity? This will further strengthen their brand.

9. cevon3239

Posts: 65; Member since: Jan 01, 2020

But this is a phone of a criminal who killed people. They should be the exception, bot the rule. If his contacts are killers, then potentially getting them could prevent future people getting killed. What if the person they killed was related to you? Would you want the phone open end up then? Or do you think the killer of your family deserves to have his privacy protedted? Think of the situation as if it was you.

11. TS020

Posts: 71; Member since: Feb 16, 2019

This is the same company that willingly gives user data to the Chinese government. Not sure how they can spin that one into "protects your privacy"

26. TBomb

Posts: 1707; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

China: "Ban Apple if they don't do X" Apple: "Okay, we'll do X" US: "Do X please" Apple: "X is impossible without jeopardizing the the entire platform" I'm not going to sit here and say that other companies wouldn't do this same thing, but it still doesn't make it okay/right for Apple to do it.

2. Alcyone

Posts: 613; Member since: May 10, 2018

Interesting. I may be wrong (lost exact link), but I do remember not much incriminating evidence was collected from the 5c. Yes, there was information, just not what they were hoping to find.

5. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1485; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

You're right, not much useful was found on the phone. And it does seem like Cellebrite is capable of cracking and extracting data from iOS 13 iPhones.

12. Tsepz_GP

Posts: 1226; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Please share a link of this?

4. jellmoo

Posts: 2678; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

It's astounding how much importance the administration can place upon the 2nd amendment only to completely disregard the importance of the 4th.

6. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2519; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

It’s not just this administration. It was the Obama administration that filed the original court order to unlock Farook’s iPhone in 2016.

7. jellmoo

Posts: 2678; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Yeah, but the Obama administration wasn't so zealous about promoting the importance of the 2nd amendment. (also I don't feel like Holder or Lynch were functionally working for Obama the way that Barr works for Trump)

23. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3188; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

C'mon Phil, you're more intelligent than that. Obama never belittled people on Twitter on a daily basis. The AG (Eric Holder) wasn't the head of the Gestapo back then. Please don't lump in the Obama administration, or even the Bush(es) or Reagan administrations, with this farce we have now. Nixon's maybe, AG Eliot Richardson was shady as all hell. I'm still waiting for the 2020 version of the Saturday Night Massacre.

10. Demo-jay

Posts: 97; Member since: Feb 13, 2018

I kinda somehow understand Apple, if it unlocks the phone, terrorist and criminals would never buy the phone again.. Secondly i think this is an opportunity for Apple to find out if someone can still be able to access the phone after all they did to prevent it..if another backdoor is available then they block it..

13. Tsepz_GP

Posts: 1226; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Ooh trust me there are plenty more backdoors into iOS, we just don’t know about them yet. No OS is ever fully protected, especially when it comes to iOS and Android, they have plenty of vulnerabilities just waiting to be exploited. However I am guessing it’s getting a lot harder to find the vulnerabilities.

14. vgking9699

Posts: 229; Member since: Mar 01, 2019

Well android is way easier to hack into, just my the nature of being open source means all sorts of developers and manufacturers need to be able to get into the depths of the phones to make their particular changes to the android os, where as iOS is made, owned and operated only by Apple and no one else is allowed to know how it runs exactly

18. Tsepz_GP

Posts: 1226; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

This is exactly why I prefer iOS more and more, but I still love dabbling in Android as many OEMs have fantastic hardware.

20. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1485; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

That's one of the dumbest and inaccurate answers ever.

21. Plutonium239

Posts: 1262; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

Apple has never been good with software security.

24. Vancetastic

Posts: 1881; Member since: May 17, 2017

They won't unlock a phone for the FBI, but Apple will scan all of your iCloud photos for child pornography. So, sometimes privacy, I guess.

25. tedkord

Posts: 17512; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Apple can't publicly access it. To do so would be to admit they can. Not that I'm saying they should. But they know others can, so they have the luxury of refusing.

27. TBomb

Posts: 1707; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

They're probably locked out for good because they didn't use an Apple Genius Bar to get it fixed. "I'm sorry but your bullets were not genuine Apple bullets and therefore your warranty is invalid and we have deactivated the phone. Buy a new one to be able to charge it again!"

29. Tsepz_GP

Posts: 1226; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Lol! This is good

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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