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Home / Tech / iPhone hacking firm updates tool amidst Apple-FBI faceoff and Trump’s pressure tweet

iPhone hacking firm updates tool amidst Apple-FBI faceoff and Trump’s pressure tweet

Thanks to these updates, FBI can now hack the Pensacola attacker’s phone without Apple

tech Updated: Jan 15, 2020 13:59 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
The spat between Apple and the FBI took a new turn with US President Donald Trump tweeting and asking Apple to “step up to the plate” and help unlock the iPhones used by the shooter at the Florida Navy base in Pensacola.
The spat between Apple and the FBI took a new turn with US President Donald Trump tweeting and asking Apple to “step up to the plate” and help unlock the iPhones used by the shooter at the Florida Navy base in Pensacola. (REUTERS)
         

The spat between Apple and the FBI took a new turn with US President Donald Trump tweeting and asking Apple to “step up to the plate” and help unlock the iPhones used by the shooter at the Florida Navy base in Pensacola.

Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the perpetrator of the December 6 terrorist attack at a Navy base in Florida was killed during the attack and FBI has been trying to get access in to his locked iPhone 5 and iPhone 7.

This is a step away from the relationship Trump and Apple CEO Tim Cook have in place, a tie that in all likelihood contributed to Trump negotiating a trade deal with China that will help Apple save billions of dollars.

Given the situation, US government officials, including Trump’s Attorney General William Barr, have complained that Apple is not doing enough to help FBI unlock the devices.

However, Apple countered the accusation of “not doing enough” by stating that they had provided “gigabytes” of data from cloud backups of the devices. While Apple has not directly addressed the government’s request to unlock iPhones, the company has refused to “build special tools” to give investigators access.

FBI can go the third-party way

But, on the other side, FBI doesn’t exactly needs Apple’s help to unlock and analyse the Florida attacker’s iPhones. They can use third-party tools as well. And a Bloomberg report says that a tool that can be used for this purpose has been recently updated.

Digital forensics firm Cellebrite, owned by Japan’s Sun Corp, has released a new tool that could be used to access data on the iPhones. Cellebrite pushed out an update to its UFED Physical Analyzer software that “helps law enforcement agencies and other customers extract and analyse information on some iPhones”.

“For the first time ever, a wealth of previously untapped data sets from iOS devices can be leveraged to change the course of investigations. This update allows you to quickly perform a forensically sound temporary jailbreak and full file system extraction within one streamlined workflow,” Shahar Tal, a security research vice president at Cellebrite, wrote in an email to customers on Tuesday.

The tool uses an exploit called the ‘Checkm8’ that allows “access to chips running on iPhones released between 2011 and 2017”. Cellebrite said that the latest version of the tool works with the iPhone 5S (first sold in 2013) on also on the iPhone X (sold in 2017) and all the other models in between.

The Cellebrite tool can help investigators analyse at least one of the devices that belonged to the December 6 Florida attacker Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.

However, this is not going to be cheap.

“This Cellebrite tool would let the government get a whole lot of information out of the phone, more than we’ve previously been able to extract,” said Neil Broom, who works with law enforcement agencies to unlock devices.

The Cellebrite tool costs about $15,000, plus an annual maintenance fee of more than $4,000, according to Broom. Before it can be used, a customer would need another Cellebrite tool for actually unlocking the phone, which could cost between $100,000 and $150,000, Broom added.

Not the first Apple-FBI spat

This is not the first time Apple and FBI has gotten into a spat about unlocking iPhones. In 2016 FBI had asked Apple to unlock the iPhone that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter. Apple had refused. Tim Cook had then said that “building a backdoor into the devices was the ‘software equivalent of cancer’,”.

As far as the current context is concerned, not everyone is on the same page as Trump. The American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement on Tuesday night, said the Trump administration’s request was “dangerous and unconstitutional, and would weaken the security of millions of iPhones.”