The FBI Can Get Into The Latest IPhones, So Why Is It Asking Apple To Break Encryption On Older Models?

from the reminder:-the-FBI-still-hasn't-updated-its-locked-device-count dept

The FBI has asked Apple to break the encryption on devices owned by the Pensacola Naval Base shooter. It hasn’t made this request officially — there’s no court order being sought to compel Apple’s assistance — but it’s asking nonetheless.

Attorney General Bill Barr put a little more muscle behind the FBI’s informal request. His statement insinuated that Apple was making the country less safe by refusing to break encryption. He also stated that time was of the essence in cases like this and Apple’s general unhelpfulness wasn’t acceptable.

Apple fired back by again stating it would not break phone encryption for the US government. It also pointed out the FBI did not inform of it a second locked device until a month after the shooting. If the government was concerned about time slipping away, it did not act with alacrity during this latest investigation.

Donald Trump followed Bill Barr’s lead, attacking Apple via Twitter with a particularly stupid tweet that suggests the president is still all about quid pro quo.

The administration is trying to turn public opinion against Apple. This will make it easier to push anti-encryption laws and policies. But the FBI doesn’t seem to need Apple to break encryption for it. It has options it’s apparently decided not to use in this case.

As we’ve noted earlier, a handful of tech companies offer devices that break or bypass encryption to pull data and communications from locked phones. Yes, it’s still an arms race, with companies like Apple patching the flaws these tools exploit, but there’s plenty of money to be made cracking open devices for government agencies.

The FBI isn’t interested in these tools, except when it’s convenient for the agency. Legal precedent compelling phone manufacturers to break encryption is infinitely more useful to the FBI. So, it chooses to ignore these options when it thinks it has a compelling case for encryption backdoors. That’s what appears to be happening here.

Thomas Brewster of Forbes says the FBI has used third-party hacking tools to access the contents of Apple’s latest iPhone.

Last year, FBI investigators in Ohio used a hacking device called a GrayKey to draw data from the latest Apple model, the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The phone belonged to Baris Ali Koch, who was accused of helping his convicted brother flee the country by providing him with his own ID documents and lying to the police.

If the FBI can get into the newest devices, why does it need Apple to break encryption on the shooters’ phones, which are much older?

Given the models in the Pensacola shooting case are iPhones 5 and 7, it’s unclear why a GrayKey hasn’t proven useful in that investigation. Forbes has previously revealed a GrayKey brochure that showed it worked on older devices, too.

It’s a question the DOJ probably doesn’t want to answer. It will have to, though. Senator Ron Wyden has already asked the DOJ to explain its actions in this case.

The most obvious answer is this: this case pushes all the buttons the administration wants pressed. It involves the shooting of US military members by a foreigner. The San Bernardino shooting was pretty much the same thing: the shooting of government employees by foreigners. These are the only two cases where the FBI has gone public about its desire to force Apple to undermine its own encryption. For everything else, there are third-party hacking tools that actually give the FBI the evidence it wants without undermining the security of millions of iPhone users.

The FBI will only push for precedent when it thinks it has the public’s support. It failed to read the room during the San Bernardino case. It hasn’t gotten any better at gauging public opinion since then. Even with Barr and Trump going on the attack, the public’s mood hasn’t shifted. Compelled encryption-breaking makes everyone less secure, not just the targets of investigations. Trying to parlay dead people’s phones into court precedent is not a good look for the agency. But the agency — and the administration running it — don’t particularly care what the public wants or is best for it.

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Comments on “The FBI Can Get Into The Latest IPhones, So Why Is It Asking Apple To Break Encryption On Older Models?”

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ECA (profile) says:

Dear Mr. DJT

I wonder how you are helping apple in trades.. As they can ship direct to any nation. And with a secure system many would love it in SOME of those other nations…
why not ASK those other nations that keep Hacking our gov computers(it is said) and find out what they may know. Because I find it interesting if they can hack Win server all over the world but cant hack apple.

On an aside..
How many politicians would like that their phones can NOW be monitored??

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Never let a good tragedy go to waste

Funnily enough while they may be trying to paint Apple as the bad guy, ‘showing disdain for the victims by refusing to help law enforcement’ by their actions they are showing that no-one holds more dismissive contempt towards the victims then them, as they are treating them as nothing more than props, to be pointed to only when it helps them and tossed into the gutter otherwise.

When it comes to trying to force a desired legal precedent they like to present the facade of clutching their hair, on their knees begging Apple to ‘Do the right thing’, yet when it comes to actually doing something for the victims they simply could not care less.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

This idiot’s tweet can be summed up:


That he would even word the tweet like this shows that he has no respect for the rights of his fellow countrymen, lacks even the slightest knowledge of what kind of precedent such actions would set if followed nor the harm it would cause to everyone if implemented. All he sees is an enemy to be squashed damned if the world goes down with it.

Alas we’re a country run by dumbasses and blind allegiance or death is the only form of politics a dumbass understands.

Dave P. says:

Re: Thank you, Senator Wyden. Again

I think I have commented on this before, but we Brits across the pond sorely need someone like Senator Wyden, who seems to have the know-how (unlike most politicians) to question mad ideas and unworkable laws regarding technical issues on the net and elsewhere. More power to his elbow, I say – and why isn’t he running for president? ANYTHING would be better than that orange idiot in the hot seat at the moment. Mind you, we have our own village idiot, in the shape of the lovely Boris, who seems to have taken his cue from good ol’ Trumpy baby.

Kent says:

Attorney General Barr is on a mission to defeat all encryption

Attorney General Barr knows the FBI doesn’t need help with any particular iPhone. Barr is on a mission to convince Congress to outlaw personal, private encryption. He wants to build a surveillance state to equal China’s mission to watch everyone and everything all the time.

Agrarogserating Circumstances says:

Re: Attorney General Barr is on a mission to defeat all encrypti

Barr is just one, in a long line of privacy rapists on both sides of the political spectrum.

Senators and presidents ranging from
Dianne Feinstein, GW Bush, Barak Obama, Nancy Pelosi, etc, have all aided in the dissolution of privacy rights, at multiple state and federal levels.

Russia and China, and their sattelite nations feel pretty free compared to the batshit crazy going on in the US right now.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Attorney General Barr is on a mission to defeat all encr

Actually, I’m pretty sure that Russia and China already have the sort of privacy invasions, government surveillance, etc. that some keep trying to do in the US (and in some cases succeeding), and in some cases they’re even worse. I wouldn’t say that Russia or China are any freer with respect to privacy than the US is right now. And that’s not getting into things like freedom of speech.

I agree that too many politicians have done a lot of damage to US privacy protections, including the ones you specifically named. I just think you’re slightly exaggerating how it compares to autocracies like Russia or China. The US is definitely pretty bad with this sort of thing, but we aren’t the worst.

Lookism says:

re:to parlay dead people’s phones into court precedent is not a good look for the agency

The FBI hasnt looked good since they started funding all those expensive DVIC high heels, starting in 1993.

But a worse look for them would be to let journalists examine the horrific extreme vetting tactics and investigative privileged methods that they use on these unsuspecting muslim immigrants, otherwise known as criminally malicious civil rights violations.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I actually don’t really disagree with you on this. I mean, I don’t know whether or not “extreme vetting tactics” are being used, what “investigative privileged methods” (sic) you’re referring to specifically, or whether or not they’re actually horrific, but I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they were, and, at least in the abstract, there isn’t really anything here I see that I disagree with.

I could quibble and note that Hispanic immigrants (and even some non-immigrants) and probably African immigrants are also being treated very unfairly and unjustly in the immigration process, not just Muslims, but I can’t deny that the current administration (and probably previous ones) have very likely been violating the rights of Muslim immigrants or that Muslim immigrants have likely received disproportionate treatment compared to at least some other immigrants.

I could also note that I’m not opposed to the general idea of stronger vetting when it comes to foreign nationals on US military bases, period, regardless of ethnicity or religion. But that’s not really the issue here, nor does that seem to be what Matt Gaetz is talking about in the article, nor does that appear to be what you’re opposing or criticizing. (And by the way, Gaetz, but the reason that the investigation is being turned over to the FBI has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with the fact that it happened on a US military base and involved a non-citizen. I don’t think that’s typically within NCIS’s jurisdiction.)

I’m not entirely familiar with DVIC, but I can get the gist of this comment without that particular knowledge.

Really, good work.

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