Trump, Barr, and the FBI do not need Apple to unlock a terrorist's iPhones

Trump, Barr, and the FBI do not need Apple to unlock a terrorist's iPhones
President Donald Trump's bizarre friendship with his buddy Tim Cook is in trouble. With Apple once again refusing to allow the FBI to unlock a terrorist's iPhone (two of them, actually, this time around), the president sent out a tweet the other day that said, "We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers, and other violent criminal elements. They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country."

Back in 2015, when a court ordered Apple to unlock the iPhone 5c belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, Apple refused. The company said that unlocking the device would require it to develop a new version of iOS to unlock the phone. The company feared that if such software got into the wrong hands, no iPhone anywhere would be able to keep its user's data private. At the time, then-candidate Trump said that he was boycotting Apple and would start using Samsung handsets. The FBI ended up paying Cellebrite a handsome fee to open the phone using its "cracking machine."

Cellebrite appears to be able to open at least one of Alshamrani's iPhones


In the current situation, the two handsets that the FBI wants Apple to open belong to Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. The latter allegedly killed three people last month at a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida during an act that is being called terrorism. Because the FBI asked Apple to unlock the phones, it appeared that companies like Cellebrite and Grayshift could not unlock any iPhones running on iOS 13. But Bloomberg reports that Cellebrite recently pushed out an update to its machines that will allow law enforcement agencies to extract and analyze information from several locked iPhone models.


Talking about this update, Cellebrite's security research vice president Shahar Tal emailed clients this week and said, "For the first time ever, a wealth of previously untapped data sets from iOS devices can be leveraged to change the course of investigations. This update allows you to quickly perform a forensically sound temporary jailbreak and full file system extraction within one streamlined workflow." The update to its UFED Physical Analyzer software uses a vulnerability called Checkm8 to access chipsets that power iPhones released from 2011 to 2017. That covers models ranging from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone X and could help the FBI unlock Alshamrani's iPhone 7 although it won't work on his iPhone 5. The alleged terrorist was killed by the police while committing his attack thus leaving his iPhones locked.

Previously, Cellebrite relied on a brute force system. With its machine plugged into an iPhone's Lightning port, Cellebrite would override limits on passcode attempts and would then try every possible passcode combination until it hit on the right one. But Apple added a Restricted USB Mode with iOS 12 that prevents the Lighting port from connecting to another device if an iPhone has not been unlocked within the last hour. Cellebrite's updated software allows it to communicate with the chipset used on certain iPhone models, apparently regardless of the iOS version that the phone in question is running. This new technology could be very useful. Neil Broom, who works with law enforcement to unlock phones, said, "This Cellebrite tool would let the government get a whole lot of information out of the phone, more than we’ve previously been able to extract.

Cellebrite rival Grayshift has reportedly been able to crack open an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max using its GrayKey machine according to Forbes. The report states that in 2019, FBI investigators in Ohio employed a GrayKey to obtain data from the latest high-end iPhone model. The phone belonged to Baris Ali Koch, who was accused of helping his brother, a convicted felon, obtain fake ID allowing him to leave the country. The FBI's search warrant noted that Koch's phone was locked when it obtained the device.

And that brings us to this question, if the FBI can open both of Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani's iPhones without Apple, why is President Trump, Attorney General Barr, and the FBI putting pressure on Apple to unlock these phones? Perhaps it has to do with setting a precedent for the future when Apple comes up with a way to block the latest technology used by Cellebrite and Grayshift. However, the president should tread lightly here; he certainly doesn't want to lose the "friendship" he has with the man he once called Tim Apple.

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16 Comments

18. Magnus100

Posts: 3; Member since: Jul 17, 2019

"The latter allegedly killed three people last month at a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida during an act that is being called terrorism." It's clear who the writer is siding with. The genius can even call terrorism what it really is.

17. senjido

Posts: 17; Member since: Sep 25, 2019

A terrorist country needs to unlock a terrorist's phone

16. androidiffic

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 18, 2020

Cellebrite may or may not be able to open the iphone; that's not the main point. The main idea of the government is to not miss an opportunity to advance its surveillance abilities. It's a golden opportunity to propagandize the public into thinking Apple is not sufficiently on "Team USA", creating an environment in which the public will then accept an unconstitutional act as the new normal. Constitutionally, code is a form of speech. The government can not compel a citizen to speak in a particular way. That's the problem for the government's surveillance lust-- compelling speech is unconstitutional. The fact that this is in the news now is *not* an accident; it's a calculated part of the propaganda effort.

15. ClifftonKMorris

Posts: 6; Member since: Oct 15, 2017

I wrote a long email to Tim Cook and Apple about this in the past. When I worked at AT&T and Microsoft, the rub was that coming from a family who has folks in Law Enforcement, and in classified positions, including at the FBI, these types of tools and even government surveillance are often abused by officers. At Microsoft, the company wanted to find a way to "monetize" MSN Messenger (which no longer exists). In that role at Microsoft, I shared how my father, who performed background checks of potential officers and was in charge of accreditation for the Jail. Other police in the office would sometimes abuse their power and use tools/techniques that were reserved for legal subpoena process to lookup information on their kids, family, or even neighbors. I told Microsoft that based on my background, I had reservations taking up such a project to make MSN Messenger chats available, unless chain of custody was fully documented and audited to the court order. Today MSN Messenger doesn't exist. I shared a more detailed and lengthy version of this via eMail to Steve Jobs when he was alive, and Tim Cook. I see this debate about security akin to the purpose of a firewall in a car. By design, a firewall is supposed to prevent fire from meeting the passenger. Just because one specific group of people think it's not necessary doesn't mean you do it. I also pressed Apple to make their products as secure as possible; probably including the T2 Chip. I also sent a "AirForce One" Lanyard to a SVP in the mail (A neighbor works for US Secret Service, and gave it to me) when Apple introduced new features I wanted. I should get in touch with those people at Apple.

20. Jackrabbit155

Posts: 7; Member since: Jan 21, 2020

......

13. SaRPeR

Posts: 173; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

They could just have iPhone scan the fingerprint or the face of the dead terrorist.

14. stevenjklein

Posts: 2; Member since: Jan 01, 2013

“ They could just have iPhone scan the fingerprint or the face of the dead terrorist.” That won’t work, because all iOS (and iPadOS) devices require the passcode to be entered when passcode has not been used to unlock the device in the last six days. Likewise the passcode must be entered if more than 8 hours has passed since the last use of Touch ID or Face ID.

12. Nickybob

Posts: 7; Member since: Oct 05, 2019

This is proof they’re doing this just to harass Apple. They can do it on their own.

7. foldablephone

Posts: 87; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

This article hasn’t been researched properly. Cellebrite or Grayshift can still NOT unlock / extract iOS 13 Data when the USB Lock is active. Grayshift unlocked the iPhone 11 Pro Max simply because the USB lock option wasn’t set up correctly. The email from Cellebrite also doesn’t say that iOS 13 is unlockable or that the same data can be extracted like that of an earlier iOS device. Their webpage confirms their device can only unlock / and extract iOS 12 devices. To summarise, iOS 13 is still secure - hence the request to Apple to unlock. If they didn’t need Apples help, they wouldn’t be asking.

11. Alan01

Posts: 672; Member since: Mar 21, 2012

First of all, Cellebrite's software update allows it to extract data via the chip in the iPhone 7. Secondly, an iPhone 11 Pro Max was cracked by Grayshift last October. You are basing your comment on the theory that the FBI wouldn't ask Apple for help if it didn't need it. When was the last time that the FBI, Trump or Barr ever acted rationally? Don't base your comment on that. Apple and the cracking machines go back and forth. It would appear that the ball is now back in Apple's court. Regards, Alan

5. saddameu

Posts: 55; Member since: Mar 26, 2017

everyone who thinks the government can't unlock phones no matter if they are apple or android are just plain naive. All of this phones have built-in backdoors . Smartphones are just mobile surveillance devices if someone wants it bad enough .

2. Atrixboyyy

Posts: 628; Member since: Nov 03, 2011

That sure is one unique iPhone in that cellebrite display . /s

3. Cyberchum

Posts: 1152; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

LMFAO

4. gtakada

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 18, 2020

I believe the Cellebrite can open all current models of major vendor cellphones, except one or two models of Apple. Those two will not last long before being broken though.

19. JohnZimmerman

Posts: 31; Member since: Sep 17, 2012

I know right? I want one of those Samsung 4g iPhones.

1. alirezasadeqilar

Posts: 7; Member since: Dec 14, 2015

terrorist's doesn't need apple to unlock terrorist's phone... sure

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