FBI asks Apple to break the encryption on an iPhone again

Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member

On December 6, 2019, Alshamrani opened fire in a classroom building at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, killing three and wounding eight others before being shot and killed by sheriff deputies. During its investigation, the FBI uncovered two iPhones allegedly belonging to the shooter, one damaged by a bullet.

The FBI obtained a warrant to search the devices, which are password protected. According to NBC News, the bureau has attempted to unlock the phones using available tools and brute-force methods, but it has been unsuccessful.

On Monday, FBI General Counsel Dana Boentte sent a letter to Apple asking for its help unlocking or decrypting the phones. Short of hacking its own encryption methods, Apple said that it is cooperating with authorities.

"We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations," the Cupertino tech giant said in a statement. "When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago, we gave them all of the data in our possession, and we will continue to support them with the data we have available."

"We stand ready from a logistical standpoint to do whatever is needed of us to work with Apple in effectuating the court's order.

With Apple only able or willing to provide data stored on the cloud, and Alshamrani dead, investigators are stuck wondering if any clues as to motive and if the shooter was acting alone could be stored locally on the devices.

The last time the FBI went to Apple with a similar request was after the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. In that case, the FBI demanded Apple crack the device even going so far as to take the company to court. It subsequently accessed the contents on the iPhone with the help of a third-party and dropped its demands.

This time the bureau seems to be acting more diplomatically without raising the previous tensions brought by trying to force Apple to compromise its iPhone security. However, it remains to be seen whether accessing the phone would produce any worthwhile evidence. In the San Bernardino case, investigators found no valuable data after cracking the shooter's phone.

Regardless, investigators are determined to get the contents contained on the phones.

"We stand ready from a logistical standpoint to do whatever is needed of us to work with Apple in effectuating the court's order," Boente said in her letter.

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cliffordcooley

TS Redneck
"The last time the FBI went to Apple with a similar request was after the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. In that case, the FBI demanded Apple crack the device even going so far as to take the company to court. "

If I remember correctly they were not demanding Apple to unlock the device. They were demanding Apple hand over the tools to do so. And that is where Apple drew a line. Apple stated they would unlock the device, but refused to turn over the tools.
 
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QuantumPhysics

TS Evangelist
Officially, Apple can NEVER allow the public to know that their devices can be hacked at will by Apple itself to help the authorities or for any other reason short of personal owner request.

Unofficially, it will probably happen anyway whether Apple helps or not.

I'd imagine the authorities have hired top hackers to assist them in cybercrimes divisions.
 

Dosahka

TS Addict
If it's a pre-iPhone XS phone then they can do it by themselves with the CPU vulnerability present since iPhone 4S up to the X. Are they reading tech articles? :D there is an app in the App store to jailbreak said phones.
Vulnerability called checkm8 (read "checkmate") has been disclosed publicly in Sept 2019.
 

Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
The FBI obtained a warrant to search the devices, which are password protected.

Nothing complicated about it; with a valid warrant from a Federal Judge it should be a done deal and that same judge can require Apple to cooperate or risk being held in contempt, at which time the Judge can decide who/whom will be spending time in jail ...
 

Cycloid Torus

Stone age computing - click on the rock below..
I'm confused. I get that Apple makes product which customers want and that part of what they want is privacy. I also get that Apple does research into exploits which can overcome the security of the product. Sometimes they discover an exploit which works and then in a later version they close the hole.

Is DoJ looking for more than what those exploits may be and how they work?

On the other hand is this saying that Apple is limiting its response to a data dump and the user's guide?
 

ZedRM

TS Booster
If I remember correctly they were not demanding Apple to unlock the device. They were demanding Apple hand over the tools to do so. And that is where Apple drew a line. Apple stated they would unlock the device, but refused to turn over the tools.
That would be incorrect. the FBI wanted the FBI to unlock the device. Apple revealed it could not because of how the device encryption works and would not try. The FBI then took the device to a firm in Israel to crack it. Apple soon discovered how it was cracked and patched the problem in short order. Once encrypted and locked, an Apple device is effectively impossible to crack currently. While that could change, it is unlikely.

The FBI can make all the demands they wish, but forcing Apple to surrender their tools or engineer a "backdoor" would be unconstitutional and a breach of due process.