Officials still want backdoor into cellphones after cracking two iPhones without help

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,329   +535
Staff member

The US Department of Justice issued a press release on Monday detailing information that the FBI had discovered on the phone of Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. Alshamrani was the shooter who killed three and injured eight others at the Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6, 2019.

The FBI obtained warrants for the information contained on the deceased man's iPhone and asked Apple for assistance opening it back in January. The Cupertino phone maker said it was fully cooperating with agents by providing all available iCloud data from the account, but could not or would not break the phone's encryption.

Attorney General William Barr and FBI head Christopher Wray were happy that the agency was finally able to crack the device after several months, but were displeased with Apple's "cooperation."

"Thanks to the great work of the FBI – and no thanks to Apple – we were able to unlock Alshamrani's phones," said Barr. "The trove of information found on these phones has proven to be invaluable to this ongoing investigation and critical to the security of the American people."

The data recovered showed that Alshamrani had links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It also provided insight into the now-deceased terrorist's actions in the years leading up to the attack. However, it came at what both officials say was an unnecessary expense.

"Public servants, already swamped with important things to do to protect the American people—and toiling through a pandemic, with all the risk and hardship that entails—had to spend all that time just to access evidence we got court-authorized search warrants for months ago," Wray said. "Our engineers and computer scientists working to access these phones were also needed on other, pressing, national security and criminal investigations."

Apple insisted in January that it had fully cooperated with law enforcement, even nixing plans to encrypt iCloud data so that it could comply with future warrants. However, when it comes to weakening the security of physical devices, such as by installing a "backdoor" for officials, is where Cupertino draws the line.

Its defense lies on the fact that as long as there is a way in for LEOs, hackers will find a way to exploit it. This is not a far-fetched notion, as we see a myriad of intrusion vectors used by black hats almost weekly. One more entry point provides yet another weakness for them to target.

Barr disagrees, saying that there must be a way to have his cake and eat it too.

"Privacy and public safety are not mutually exclusive," the AG told the press this morning. "We are confident that technology companies are capable of building secure products that protect user information and, at the same time, allow for law enforcement access when permitted by a judge—as Apple had done willingly for many years, and others still do today."

TechSpot has reached out to Apple for comment and will update you when we hear back.

Image credit: Robert Coolen

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p51d007

Posts: 2,366   +1,626
As someone who worked in and around law enforcement for 20 years, I have a REAL problem with "allowing" a back door to be placed on purpose in any computer device. Why? Because you can bet the first ones to find the back door, will exploit it for their own good.
Yes, if LEO's have a legit case, they can get a warrant and the manufacturer of said device should cooperate with obtaining the data requested on a device, but, purposely placing a back door into a device, is just asking for trouble.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 6,936   +5,219
Agreed .... all too often in recent years, law enforcement and others have abused these privileges without penalty and the FISA judges are powerless to do anything about it. That system needs a strong review and re-work.
 
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brucek

Posts: 345   +396
The fact that any back door will almost certainly end up in the hands of bad actors is an unfortunate fact of life. That's not the FBI's fault but they could at least acknowledge it and make smart choices to protect the overall security of the average american.

Beyond that, the FBI does have itself to blame for its lack of care in the past, leading many law-abiding citizens who would like criminals caught to none-the-less have a lot of reservations in giving the FBI any sort of extra surveillance power that track record suggests will be abused.
 

Tantor

Posts: 59   +77
Does anybody remember this booboo? 22 million government worker files were hacked. This was information the government collects to certify personnel Classification level. Their credit history, family records, contacts for 20 years, etc. personnel records, criminal history. Now these people with Secret clearances are exposed to blackmail and perhaps even worse...

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news...-21-5-million-people-federal-authorities-say/

The same exact thing always seems to happen. No information they gather about you is safe... at all. And nobody seems to be responsible when a leak occurs.

As far as I'm concerned, the FBI has no need-to-know when it comes to private computer accounts.
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 1,840   +2,125
As someone who worked in and around law enforcement for 20 years, I have a REAL problem with "allowing" a back door to be placed on purpose in any computer device. Why? Because you can bet the first ones to find the back door, will exploit it for their own good.
Yes, if LEO's have a legit case, they can get a warrant and the manufacturer of said device should cooperate with obtaining the data requested on a device, but, purposely placing a back door into a device, is just asking for trouble.
A warrant can be placed for the contents of a safe, but the safe company doesnt go and help the FBI unlock it. Computers are no different. If the FBI wants the data in a phone, let them figure out a way to get it.
 

Bullwinkle M

Posts: 311   +192
As someone who worked in and around law enforcement for 20 years, I have a REAL problem with "allowing" a back door to be placed on purpose in any computer device. Why? Because you can bet the first ones to find the back door, will exploit it for their own good.
Yes, if LEO's have a legit case, they can get a warrant and the manufacturer of said device should cooperate with obtaining the data requested on a device, but, purposely placing a back door into a device, is just asking for trouble.
That's nonsense
If the manufacturer correctly implemented secure encryption, then a warrant is irrelevant because the manufacturer cannot decrypt the contents even WITH their full cooperation
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Quote: "but, purposely placing a back door into a device, is just asking for trouble."

Microsoft recently found that out when Bitlocker encryption was broken without the users password >

 
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Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,329   +535
Staff member
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I have a number of issues with the stance that Barr and Wray are taking, but I'll only mention two. The first is that in this case and in the past they assume that Apple has a magic key into its encryption scheme, which it doesn't. Well, as long as they are being ethical about security, which I supposed could be debated by some. The fact is that Apple does not (or if it does, should not) key encryption keys for devices. Therefore, asking them to crack an iPhone is just passing the exact same job the FBI should be doing on to Apple (or any other company). It's like being a construction worker and not liking to frame houses because it's hard, so I go to the lumberyard and say, "Hey, frame that house."

The second issue I find is the illogical fallacy that this is okay because of "national security."

Let's frame the argument: Because terrorists -- we should have a backdoor into every computer and mobile device because breaking in is hard.

Now let's reframe it to something more relatable: Because drug dealers -- we should have a set of keys to every citizens' house because breaking down the door is too much trouble.

How can anybody think this is okay?
 
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Theinsanegamer

Posts: 1,840   +2,125
How can anybody think this is okay?
Because many people today take counsel in their fears. They are SO used to the decadent, hedonistic, cosmopolitan lifestyle that living somewhere like the US provides that ANYTHING that could stand in their way to their next endocrine rush from consuming is seen as the worst possible outcome for their lives.

You see this all the time, with populations willingly passing legislation to further restrict firearm sales despite the criminals who spurred this action using illegal firearms, or people willing to obliterate their economies because a disease with a 99.5% survival rate exists. We see this in people who act like being called naughty words is the same as being held at gunpoint, a population so thin skinned that any percieved slight is enough to send them flying off the handle. Screeching about innumerable invisible "ists" and "isms", of don quixote and his windmills.

Western society has totally lost perspective on what truly constitutes an issue, what our freedoms and rights are, and WHY we fought war after war to protect those rights. They are willing to sacrifice privacy for some percieved "security" because it makes them feel good inside, with 0 thought put into the long term consequences of their actions, and blind trust that the authorities given these powers will NEVER abuse them and NEVER change political compasses.

"those who would sacrifice privacy for security deserve neither."
 

Danny101

Posts: 1,292   +513
Barr and the FBI are going to be in the minority on this one. Privacy is fast wasting away, and people will become stingier and stingier on that front. Do the legwork. It being hard is just part of the job. Wasn't it last week that with the Patriot Act, the FBI can look at your browser history without a warrant? Do they need your device to see that? How exactly would they be able to see that? And wouldn't it tell them all they need to know?