FBI Denies It Lied About Ability To Crack iPhone, Also Suggests Cellebrite Rumor Is Wrong

from the but-who-do-you-believe dept

LAST DAY to support Techdirt’s crowdfunding campaign!

As we pointed out earlier this week, it’s pretty obvious that the Justice Department lied to a federal magistrate judge in saying that it had exhausted all possible opportunities to get into the work iPhone of Syed Farook, given that it has now put the case about it on hold to test out a “new way” to get into the phone. The DOJ had made a filing claiming that Apple’s help was the only way to get into the phone, yet now is saying that’s probably not true. However, the FBI is insisting that the DOJ wasn’t lying. In a letter to the Editor at the Wall Street Journal, FBI Director James Comey reacts angrily to a similar opinion piece at the WSJ suggesting the DOJ lied:

You are simply wrong to assert that the FBI and the Justice Department lied about our ability to access the San Bernardino killer?s phone. I would have thought that you, as advocates of market forces, would realize the impact of the San Bernardino litigation. It stimulated creative people around the world to see what they might be able to do. And I?m not embarrassed to admit that all technical creativity does not reside in government. Lots of folks came to us with ideas. It looks like one of those ideas may work and that is a very good thing, because the San Bernardino case was not about trying to send a message or set a precedent; it was and is about fully investigating a terrorist attack.

James B. Comey

It’s difficult to take much of that at face value — especially as the government continues to push for similar court orders in other cases. And especially as Comey has been whining on and on about “going dark” for well over a year and a half now. At the very least, it does seem clear that the FBI failed to truly explore all possible options. As some iPhone forensics folks have noted, if this were truly a brand new solution, the FBI would need a hell of a lot more than two weeks of testing to make sure it really worked.

In the meantime, I’d heard from a few folks, and now others are reporting as well, that the assumptions that many had made about the Israeli company Cellebrite providing the solution are simply not true — along with the idea that the solution involves reflashing the chip. The FBI itself now says it’s a “software-based” solution.

FBI Director James Comey, in response to a reporter’s question at a briefing, said making a copy of the iPhone?s chip in an effort to circumvent the password lockout ?doesn?t work.? Comey wouldn’t identify the company that’s helping it or discuss details of the technique.


Law enforcement officials speaking on background debunked another report that had named Israeli forensics firm Cellebrite as the mystery firm helping it break into the phone.

Of course, this is after Cellebrite got a ton of free publicity from press reports claiming that it was the company (all of which was based on a few rumors from within the forensics world):

At this point it’s not clear that you can trust the FBI or DOJ on anything about these issues, as they’ve managed the messaging very, very carefully, and at times have made statements that are somewhere in that gray zone between “misleading” and “outright lies.” But Comey’s actions over the last year and a half make it quite clear that this is not just about this one iPhone and he very, very much wants a precedent that will effectively stop the possibility of encryption that the FBI can’t easily circumvent.

LAST DAY to support Techdirt’s crowdfunding campaign!

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: cellibrite

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “FBI Denies It Lied About Ability To Crack iPhone, Also Suggests Cellebrite Rumor Is Wrong”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Comey in person

During the Thursday (Mar 24) press conference, in the 28:40 – 29:45 segment(*), the optics(**) of Director Comey’s response were very bad. He was off camera, while he was “shaking his head.”

(*) These timemarks, verified just now, are about 30 seconds later than the timemarks derived from the C-SPAN video yesterday. (Additionally, the transcript box now shows text, where yesterday it was blank.)

(**) Optics: political slang

Anonymous Coward says:

Zdziarski's take (updated)

My Take on FBI’s “Alternative” Method”, by Jonathan Zdziarski, Zdziarski’s Blog of Things, Mar 24, 2016:


An anonymous source came forward and told WaPo the method being used is a software method. There’s certainly more than one way to skin a cat, but I have my doubts about the reliability of this information. A few things bother me:

 . . .

2. FBI Director Comey, in a press conference, claims the NAND technique “doesn’t work”; this says more about the credibility of this information than anything. Every expert I’ve consulted (including three hardware forensics firms) believe it works, and multiple firms are still in the process of validating the technique. . . .

About Jonathan Zdziarsk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: NAND Mirroring Concept Simulation [was Zdziarski's take (updated)]

NAND ‘Mirroring’ Concept Simulation”, by Jonathan Zdziarski, Zdziarski’s Blog of Things, March 26, 2016

YouTube video: “NAND ‘Mirroring’ Concept Simulation – iOS 9.0” (Jonathan Zdziarski; Published on Mar 26, 2016)

This is a simple “concept” simulation of a NAND mirroring attack on an iOS 9.0 device. . . .

Anonymous Coward says:

the reason the case was stopped from going to court was because the FBI and the DoJ didn’t want a precedent set that was the exact opposite of what it had intended going after! now there has been no court decision, they can go after the same thing again at a later date and maybe there will be much less public and expert tech people so worried about losing every bit of freedom and privacy, just like the UK public are going to lose!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Reflashing vs copying

are simply not true — along with the idea that the solution involves reflashing the chip.

Btw, the USA Today story says:

FBI Director James Comey, in response to a reporter’s question at a briefing, said making a copy of the iPhone’s chip in an effort to circumvent the password lockout “doesn’t work.”

I wouldn’t characterize “making a copy” of the Toshiba THGBX2G7B2JLA01 128 Gb (16 GB) NAND flash as “reflashing”. Rather, I would expect that after copying the flash, it would then be set aside and preserved as evidence.

Moving beyond that characterization there, others have pointed out that the reporter’s question at the yesterday’s press conference was not necessarily exact enough to be really sure of what question Director Comey thought he was responding to, or whether Director Comey’s answer had anything to do with the techniques Mr Issa asked about March 1 House Judiciary hearing, or any similar techniques. Director Comey is a lawyer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Reflashing vs copying

Toshiba THGBX2G7B2JLA01

Incidentally, “THGBX2G7B2J LA 01” seems to indicate that this is a LGA package. Eyeballing the teardown photos, the package appears roughly on the opposite side of the board from the A6 processor—which also needs careful handling.

If worst comes to worst (say perhaps strictly room-temperature techniques prove necessary), the board which physically separates those two components should be electrically reconstructable.

In a consumer device, I would not expect Apple to incorporate explosives or incendiaries.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Reflashing vs copying

(say perhaps strictly room-temperature techniques prove necessary)

Data Retention in MLC NAND Flash Memory: Characterization, Optimization, and Recovery”, Y. Cai, Y. Luo, E.F. Haratsch, K. Mai, O. Mutlu (2015). p.10.

Increased temperature exponentially increases retention loss due to increased leakage and therefore increases the effective retention age of a flash memory block (i.e., the equivalent retention age of the block under room temperature). . . .

As an illustrative example, Table I shows the retention age in hours at high temperature (70°C) to achieve a {30, 60, 90, 180, 360, 1080}-day-equivalent retention age at room temperature (20°C). Note that flash memory can achieve a 30-day-equivalent retention age in only 2.6 hours at 70°C.

Dkone says:

I am sick of folks

Mike, I hope you are aping the usage of the word folks in your article. I read “Lots of folks came to us with ideas” in Comey’s quote and it drives me crazy. Is it a bunch of country folk coming in to the rescue of the FBI? You know in their suspenders and elite hacking skillz.

It also sounds like any one of the President’s speeches. So kudos to you Mike for making fun of Comey in such a subtle manner.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: I am sick of folks

Lots of people don’t associate “folks” with some sort of stereotyped suspender-wearing country folk. I know that image is the furthest thing from my mind when I hear the term. In my part of the nation, it’s just a casual way of saying “people” and implies nothing more than that.

But I have no idea if Comey (or Mike) read it differently.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Folks.

I’d have to agree. Santa school teaches Santas to talk about family using folks because it’s a neutral term and doesn’t raise that, say, an orphan is being raised by other guardians.

These days it usually refers to immediate family or community.

So, for example, Obama’s admission we tortured some folks while trying to put it mildly also confessed we tortured some of our own. Which the US has.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Folks.

Santa school teaches Santas to talk about family using folks because…

Do you happen to know what Easter Bunny school teaches?

 ( OK. Sorry for going wildly off on a tangent. But I just happened to see that this People Magazine story is front page Google News right now. And I’m like going, uhh, folks. Folks. Please, folks… Look, people!… )

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Mad rushes [was Folks.]

In a desperate, but perhaps ultimately futile, attempt to warp people’s minds back to the story here…

Apple-FBI fight caused a 20% spike in this firm’s shares”, by Arjun Kharpal, CNBC, Mar 24, 2016

Shares in Japan’s Sun Corporation spiked over 20 percent on Thursday after reports that one of its subsidiaries, Israeli firm Cellebrite, is helping the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) . . .

( I was just going to let this news from a few days ago pass with comment, but it seems apropos to set it down here now. )

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Folks.

As a veteran of Easter Sunday banquets that feature Easter egg hunts, crazy parent fights and rushes are a common symptom of prize eggs being too valuable (e.g. when someone drops $100 into an egg.) It seems to bring out the worst in people.

A workaround (if you must have crazy fabulous prizes) is to instead egg tickets to a drawing, or coded tickets that actually don’t reveal what final prize is. Tickets are redeemed only after the hunt is concluded. Included lots of consolation prizes (e.g. candy).

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: lying by agency officials to the public and the courts

Just because something is obvious or commonplace doesn’t mean it should be tolerated as obvious or commonplace.

In large swatches of society lying is actually repugnant and even considered a declaration of hostility.

I’m pretty sure our law forbids certain kinds of lying, and that such crimes are never prosecuted when committed within certain sectors is conspicuous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: lying by agency officials to the public and the courts

My point was that they lie, and because of who they are, what they are capable off, what their SUPPOSE to be, the utter lack of resposibility of this power……

Tear it down and show the next government a very fucking big stick the next time they even suggest a thing that is’nt purely based on helping EVERY single HUMAN being

Limited options you say……..GOOD, thats how it was suppose to fucking be…………not write a fucking law for every fucking thing, but to write a few “guidelines” and then let people live their lives within those guidelines………something like….i dont know……the fucking constitution

I hear the only place you can get a copy these days is in the government controlled toilet paper factory

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: lying by agency officials to the public and the courts

Hiya, its me again, sorry for my language, and please know my frustration was purely pointed at the situation, and not yourself…….sorry about that, didnt realise it might have seemed pointed towards yourself until after i’d posted and reread it

You where kind in your response, and i would hate you to think i was angry at you when infact im angry at the situation were all in

My apologies for not writing calmly

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: lying by agency officials to the public and the courts

“Limited options you say”

This bit
Not yourself…….big government advocates, the warmongerors, the ones who may infact mean well but do more harm then good, because they have no true understanding of freedom, except the one thats CONTROLLED

the idea is to evolve as a species so that everysingle one of us understands why its best that we all get along, without having to rely on a third party………actually, thats simple, destroy the bullshit, the lies, the half truths, the self interested parties, the ones who dont blink an eyelid that the choice they make might cause the death of 1, 2, 10, 200, 20,000, 1,000,000,000 people

Right, pumping the brakes on my rambling, before i write another couple dozen random thoughts

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

in before....

Congressman: Director Comey, You have stated to a Federal Judge that you had exhausted all avenues to unlocking this phone, is that not correct?

Comey: I don’t recall saying that, Congressman

Congressman produces court papers stating to the fact. “you LIED to a federal judge, you DO know that is perjury, do you not?

Comey: uhhh… I may need a lawyer to answer that question Congressman.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...