An Australian company helped the FBI crack the San Bernardino iPhone; here's how

midian182

Posts: 6,768   +61
Staff member
What just happened? The question of who cracked the San Bernardino iPhone and how they did it has been shrouded in mystery for years, but a new report has revealed the truth: it was an Australian security firm called Azimuth Security using a Lightning Port exploit.

To recap, the iPhone 5c in question belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two shooters from an attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015, in which 14 people died. Both perpetrators were killed by law enforcement, but it was hoped that Farook’s handset would reveal new information, such as a possible third accomplice. Unfortunately, it was locked, and an iOS 9 feature ensured all its data would be erased if the wrong passcode was entered ten times.

The FBI wanted Apple’s help in unlocking the device. The company refused, with Tim Cook highlighting the dangers of creating a backdoor. The situation led to a nationwide privacy vs. security debate and court orders. Eventually, the feds used outside help to break into the phone, which was found to contain no useful information.

It's long been suspected that Israeli firm Cellebrite was the unnamed helper, but The Washington Post writes that it was actually Azimuth Security. Company founder Mark Dowd discovered a flaw in an open-source upstream software module written by Mozilla, adopted by Apple to enable the use of accessories with the iPhone’s Lightning port.

Azimuth researcher David Wang used the exploit to gain initial access before chaining two more exploits to secure complete control over the processor. It was then a matter of utilizing software to guess multiple passcode combinations without the risk of erasing the data.

Mozilla rolled out an update that fixed the exploit a month or two later, with Apple applying the code to its devices.

In 2017, three news publications—USA Today, the Associated Press, and Vice Media—all sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information act to try and force it to reveal details about the anonymous company and how much it charged to break Apple’s older security features. But U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the information is properly classified national security secrets and therefore exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. It’s believed that the FBI paid $900,000 to access the iPhone.

Center image credit: Ivica Drusany

Permalink to story.

 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 4,870   +5,396
I have no problem with the government itself investigating these crimes and cracking suspect's technology...

...but apple in NO WAY should allow them access to/ nor provide any keys to the devices of its patrons.

I appreciate Apple sticking its middle finger way up to the likes of Google, Zuckerberg, the government and anyone else who attempts to invade my privacy with measures that undermine their technology and force them to abide by Apple's privacy TOS.

I will continue to patronize Apple and be a shareholder.
 

psycros

Posts: 3,442   +3,987
I have no problem with the government itself investigating these crimes and cracking suspect's technology...

...but apple in NO WAY should allow them access to/ nor provide any keys to the devices of its patrons.

I appreciate Apple sticking its middle finger way up to the likes of Google, Zuckerberg, the government and anyone else who attempts to invade my privacy with measures that undermine their technology and force them to abide by Apple's privacy TOS.

I will continue to patronize Apple and be a shareholder.

Did the feds even bother to ask Apple if that phone's data was backed up to iCloud? That would be a much easier way to obtain it.
 

bexwhitt

Posts: 534   +218
Did the feds even bother to ask Apple if that phone's data was backed up to iCloud? That would be a much easier way to obtain it.
Icloud backups are encrypted with the users passcode Apple cannot decrypt it if you forget your password you lose your backup
 

scavengerspc

Posts: 1,155   +1,091
TechSpot Elite
Just make it a situation where a warrant can be issued. Like with someone's home or vehicle.
If a warrant was issued to get into the phone then it is punishable by prison if the served party (In this case would have been Apple) does not cooperate. I'm not sure America has deteriorated to the point that a company can decide if they want to comply with the law. At least not yet.
 

Hexic

Posts: 951   +1,326
TechSpot Elite
Did the feds even bother to ask Apple if that phone's data was backed up to iCloud? That would be a much easier way to obtain it.

Long story short, the suspect allegedly disabled his iCloud sync about a month and a half prior to the shooting, the idea is that this was done to intentionally hide evidence, due to the subject having contact with some of the victims prior to the shootings.

The FBI utilized the All Writs Act and did court order Apple to assist with the technical means of taking data from the phone.

The FBI even went as far as stating that Apple could keep the phone on its company premises, install a one-time use data extraction tool from this phone, the FBI would then remotely extract the user data from the physical device, and Apple would then be permitted to immediately and permanently delete the dead extraction tool and all work affiliated around it.

The FBI did not want a permanent back door to the iPhones, it wanted the data off of a specific device that was owned by a confirmed terrorist. Apple is terrified of the concept of allowing any data removed from a phone, regardless if it may find information on a terrorist with 14 murders under his belt.

Goes to show that IP is far more important than humanistic morals. Apple simply tried to cover up with, "We care about your security". Security that was compromised shortly after anyways. A valiant effort, but quite easy to see through.
 

Zor Ven

Posts: 18   +21
Just make it a situation where a warrant can be issued. Like with someone's home or vehicle.
If a warrant was issued to get into the phone then it is punishable by prison if the served party (In this case would have been Apple) does not cooperate. I'm not sure America has deteriorated to the point that a company can decide if they want to comply with the law. At least not yet.

Who is the warrant to? If it is to Apple and Apple does not know the passcode or have a backdoor, then what are you suggesting?
 

Cubi Dorf

Posts: 333   +219
I believe apple is say they cannot open because they did not include backdoor. you can’t providing information on something if you don’t have the information.

Just make it a situation where a warrant can be issued. Like with someone's home or vehicle.
If a warrant was issued to get into the phone then it is punishable by prison if the served party (In this case would have been Apple) does not cooperate. I'm not sure America has deteriorated to the point that a company can decide if they want to comply with the law. At least not yet.
 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 317   +254
I for one do not believe everything Apple says - Apple probably could have cracked his phone - I mean they are fixing security all the time - so if this case was extremely important nuclear bomb and all that - Of course Apple would of done it.
Apple position is this - Our phones are impossible to hack ( public facing )
If we help you this time - it will never end and we don't want that and it damages our image that our phones are unhackable .

Still I find the view that our privacy on tech is sacrosanct risible - because no one except the most extreme would support that in their own life if a situation involve theirs or their families safety - Most people with this belief intersect with the belief that others should keep 2 metres distance to reduce Covid 19

All I'm saying if you become a policy maker - it's messy , grey and you will have inconsistencies
 

scavengerspc

Posts: 1,155   +1,091
TechSpot Elite
Who is the warrant to? If it is to Apple and Apple does not know the passcode or have a backdoor, then what are you suggesting?
I believe apple is to say they cannot open because they did not include backdoor. you can’t providing information on something if you don’t have the information.
Im suggesting that I dont believe for one second that Apple could not have helped. They simply refused. To even think that a bunch of strangling control freaks like Apple can't get into their own hardware is just incomprehensible.
 

PEnnn

Posts: 626   +609
Just make it a situation where a warrant can be issued. Like with someone's home or vehicle.
If a warrant was issued to get into the phone then it is punishable by prison if the served party (In this case would have been Apple) does not cooperate. I'm not sure America has deteriorated to the point that a company can decide if they want to comply with the law. At least not yet.

You really have no idea about the law and you're just blabbering nonsense

The phone in question does NOT belong to Apple but to the dead guy. Otherwise, the court would have forced them to cooperate.
End of story.
 

scavengerspc

Posts: 1,155   +1,091
TechSpot Elite
The phone in question does NOT belong to Apple but to the dead guy.
Yep. And a warrant on the dead guys phone should automatically mean ordering the investigation by Apple. Law enforcement does it now with the black box we have built in to all passenger vehicles. RAM does not own my truck but if Im in an accident the law gets the black box if they need it. If withheld they will issue a warrant for it after the accident.
Anyone that believes control freaks such as Apple can't help with their own hardware is a complete fool.

All new story.
 
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Markoni35

Posts: 1,074   +439
"...discovered a flaw in an open-source upstream software module written by Mozilla..."

Yep. Open source is full of flaws and security holes. Some accidental, some deliberate. Especially web browsers.
 

poohbear

Posts: 627   +542
Just make it a situation where a warrant can be issued. Like with someone's home or vehicle.
If a warrant was issued to get into the phone then it is punishable by prison if the served party (In this case would have been Apple) does not cooperate. I'm not sure America has deteriorated to the point that a company can decide if they want to comply with the law. At least not yet.

It's actually pretty impressive that a private company refused a government order without the government throwing them in prison. Can you imagine a "private" company refusing a Chinese government order? They would literally disappear. The rule of law and adherence to it is what makes immigration go one way--> to the west.
 

orbital

Posts: 31   +30
I for one do not believe everything Apple says - Apple probably could have cracked his phone - I mean they are fixing security all the time - so if this case was extremely important nuclear bomb and all that - Of course Apple would of done it.
Apple position is this - Our phones are impossible to hack ( public facing )
If we help you this time - it will never end and we don't want that and it damages our image that our phones are unhackable .

Still I find the view that our privacy on tech is sacrosanct risible - because no one except the most extreme would support that in their own life if a situation involve theirs or their families safety - Most people with this belief intersect with the belief that others should keep 2 metres distance to reduce Covid 19

All I'm saying if you become a policy maker - it's messy , grey and you will have inconsistencies

It was interesting to read quite a lot of comments here. Not really sure if I'm from another universe or we don't live on the same planet...

Apple and Alphabet for sure know everything about us, have OS backdoors left by design, suck and store any data they can get by the minute, and of course collaborate with the government and whoever pays for it on the top of it. I am more than certain that if not Apple themselves, then Google and dozens of other apps on the phone have traced the user location, all WiFi networks he's been connected to (respectively physical addresses), as well as mobile carrier towers and who knows what more. Sufficient to see how many specific and identifiable outgoing connections are live each second or and how many MBs are hogged per hour by completely innocent, not to mention system, phone apps. The phone itself may have helped the investigation, but the info has already left it, it just needed some research.

"Apple refused to collaborate/provide the information to the FBI" is simply part of Apple's own and the global US American national corporations marketing as Apple products are sold worldwide. If there were doubts on the most unbreakable and privacy-friendly phone (haha), no one would have ever bought an iPhone. Or Alphabet's Android. Or anything else. You don't admit in prime-time hours what you actually do.

We are spied upon 25/8/367 days a year. There are no governments, private companies and court orders where it concerns data. It is hogged as it goes live and if a product does not have a backdoor, it is not released at all. The rest is fairy-tales for kids who at best watch the trusty mainstream news on their TV home and live in bliss in black and white. At worst, don't know anything about the world around them whatsoever.
 

PEnnn

Posts: 626   +609
Yep. And a warrant on the dead guys phone should automatically mean ordering the investigation by Apple. Law enforcement does it now with the black box we have built in to all passenger vehicles. RAM does not own my truck but if Im in an accident the law gets the black box if they need it. If withheld they will issue a warrant for it after the accident.
Anyone that believes control freaks such as Apple can't help with their own hardware is a complete fool.

All new story.
You assume a lot on a long day...

You're comparing a nation-wide car safety issue to an incident that involves a single phone, really??

And we thought people on such tech forums have no comprehension problems.
 

scavengerspc

Posts: 1,155   +1,091
TechSpot Elite
You assume a lot on a long day...

You're comparing a nation-wide car safety issue to an incident that involves a single phone, really??

And we thought people on such tech forums have no comprehension problems.
It's not a nationwide issue. It's the law. If the law needs a cars black box they get it, or get a warrant for it. It should be just as easy to get info from a phone that may help solve a crime. In the real world 1+1 is still 2. Helping to solve a crime should not be voluntary. Do you really believe that an Australian company could do what Apple couldn't? That is willful ignorance.

Do you truly not see the similarities? If not I'm pretty sure I'm not the one with the comprehension problems. And if you believe for a nanosecond that Apple could not have helped get into the phone then comprehension problems are just a start.
 
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scavengerspc

Posts: 1,155   +1,091
TechSpot Elite
It's actually pretty impressive that a private company refused a government order without the government throwing them in prison. Can you imagine a "private" company refusing a Chinese government order? They would literally disappear. The rule of law and adherence to it is what makes immigration go one way--> to the west.
To be honest I would love to hear the details of how they withheld the assistance and got away with it. We aren't talking of artificial threats, we are talking about the possibility to solve a crime.
 

PEnnn

Posts: 626   +609
To be honest I would love to hear the details of how they withheld the assistance and got away with it. We aren't talking of artificial threats, we are talking about the possibility to solve a crime.
Maybe they can solve the crimes the old fashioned way, you know, when they didn't have IPhones. Assuming you're old enough to remember.

Stop posting such gibberish, you're embarassing yourself even further!!
 

scavengerspc

Posts: 1,155   +1,091
TechSpot Elite
Maybe they can solve the crimes the old fashioned way, you know, when they didn't have IPhones. Assuming you're old enough to remember.

Stop posting such gibberish, you're embarassing yourself even further!!
Wow, you win that round. How did they ever do it without an iPhone before there were iPhones to investigate. The mystery continues.

Still, legislation needs to exist that punishes a company that harbors criminals. I just sense that Apple will continue to defy law enforcement again until they are forced into common decency.

Am I really such a bad guy because I think your heroes at Apple should have the same responsibilities to society as the rest of us? It would seem that you disagree, which is something you should be embarrassed about to be honest.
 
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