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

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

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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.

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Filed Under: all writs act, doj, iphone, james comey, lies
Companies: cellibrite


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  1. icon
    madasahatter (profile), 26 Mar 2016 @ 9:03am

    Failure and Perjury

    The whole attack on Apple and encryption smells of a cover up of a FBI failure to break up a what was probably a known terror plot by them. The perjury is in lying to a tame judge that they needed to decrypt his company issued phone.

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