FBI Enlists Israeli Firm Cellebrite to Unlock Shooter's iPhone

Israeli mobile software developer Cellebrite is helping the FBI in its attempt to unlock the iPhone at the center of the San Bernardino shooter investigation.

That's according to a story filed by Reuters this morning, based on a report in Wednesday's copy of Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. If the software company succeeds then the FBI will no longer need the help of Apple, the report claimed, citing unnamed industry sources.

According to its website, Cellebrite offers "mobile forensics solutions" which "give access to and unlock the intelligence of mobile data sources to extend investigative capabilities, accelerate investigations, unify investigative teams and produce solid evidence".

Cellebrite
Apple and the U.S. government have been embroiled in a heated public battle that started when a court ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the iPhone 5c of terrorist Syed Farook. Unlocking the iPhone would require Apple to build a new version of iOS that bypasses iPhone passcode restrictions and provides the FBI with a way to enter passcodes electronically, something Apple has staunchly refused to do.

On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department convinced the court overseeing its ongoing battle with Apple to postpone a hearing scheduled to take place March 22. The DoJ said new leads had been discovered that could provide it with a way to unlock the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook without involving Apple.

Various commentators on the case have cast doubt on the FBI's original claim that it had exhausted all avenues in its attempt to unlock Farook's iPhone and a number of ideas have been floated in the media by security experts. The most likely attack was set out in a March 7 blog post by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which directly called into question the FBI's initial assertion that it had no means of extracting the iPhone's data.

iphone5c
The process described by UCLA technology fellow Daniel Kahn Gillmor uses a technique called NAND mirroring to copy the portion of the phone's memory that counts the number of passcode attempts entered. By continually restoring the copy, the FBI could thereby circumvent the limit on the number of passcode guesses that can be made before the device is rendered permanently inaccessible.

Another, more risky – not to mention laborious – method is an invasive microchip attack known as "de-capping". This involves removing and de-capsulating the phone's memory chip, carefully drilling down into it using a focused ion beam to expose the portion of the chip containing the target data (in this case, the iPhone's unique ID and passkey algorithm) and then probing it, micron by micron, to extract the information.

The latter could then be used in an off-device "brute-force" attack on the passcode that would be able to try all possible combinations without running up against the iPhone's guess limit.

The judge involved in the high-profile California case has agreed to vacate the March 22 hearing and requested that the government provide an update on its progress by April 5. The motion requiring Apple to help the FBI lock the iPhone was suspended.

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Apple said it would insist on obtaining details about the exploit the FBI plans to use should the government keep the case going. If the case is dropped, Apple will not be able to ask for that information.

Update 8:13 AM: As noted by Twitter user @zenalbatross, the FBI signed a $15,000 contract with Cellebrite on Monday.

cellebrite_contract
Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

NT1440 Avatar
72 months ago
Ah Cellebrite, the company whose website mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago (I was looking into them because of mentions of the company in certain leaked documents) but has a long history of building and selling the equipment for security states around the world.

They played a role in the systems used during the Arab Spring, the uprising in Tunisia, etc. This is a company who's products for surveillance are sold indiscriminately to dictators around the world to dragnet their citizens.

Good to see who the US security apparatus is in bed with.
Score: 98 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DogHouseDub Avatar
72 months ago
Gonna seem awfully silly when they find nothing but dick picks and Angry Birds
Score: 81 Votes (Like | Disagree)
xero9 Avatar
72 months ago
As I said a while back.

What would be safer for everyone?

Apple, under their own total control accessing the data themselves and presenting just the data to the FBI.

Or some third party team working out how to access data on iPhones?

If we presume SOME 3rd party will be able to recover data at some point in time, which of the two scenarios do you feel would be preferable ?
3rd party for sure.. In that case, Apple can always work towards securing future versions of iOS and iPhone. Once they start going down the path of helping the government there is no turning back.
Score: 62 Votes (Like | Disagree)
keysofanxiety Avatar
72 months ago
As I said a while back.

What would be safer for everyone?

Apple, under their own total control accessing the data themselves and presenting just the data to the FBI.

Or some third party team working out how to access data on iPhones?

If we presume SOME 3rd party will be able to recover data at some point in time, which of the two scenarios do you feel would be preferable ?
Yes, what would be safer for everyone?

Apple, the phone manufacturer, creating a backdoor exploit for all iPhones - a backdoor in the posession of 'only' the US government - and an exploit that, since it has been deliberately programmed, has a much higher chance of being discovered by other hacking organisations. A legal outcome which means all future iPhones will require a backdoor.

Or some 3rd party working out how to hack an iPhone (which has been happening for ages, by the way -- ever heard of jailbreaking?), by finding an exploit or utilising a technique that Apple will patch in the near future.

Which of the two scenarios do you feel would be preferable?

EDIT: plus your argument almost seems to imply that with one, the other can't exist. It's a preposterous logical fallacy. If Apple created an iOS backdoor, that doesn't stop 3rd party hackers. Rather, it encourages them to find the backdoor or steal the custom version of iOS.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
deany Avatar
72 months ago
Well, I wish them good luck on their first and last iPhone unlock, if they succeed.
I really hope they screw up good time.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
djcerla Avatar
72 months ago
Let's just flush away US taxpayer's money, we have to avoid the court at any cost!
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iphone 12 colors 2021

iPhone 12 Colors: Deciding on The Right Color

Thursday November 5, 2020 8:35 am PST by
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro arrived last October in a range of color options, with entirely new hues available on both devices, as well as some popular classics. The 12 and 12 Pro have different color choices, so if you have your heart set on a particular shade, you might not be able to get your preferred model in that color. iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12...
original iphone

Phil Schiller Says iPhone Was 'Earth-Shattering' Ten Years Ago and Remains 'Unmatched' Today

Monday January 9, 2017 7:15 am PST by
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller sat down with tech journalist Steven Levy for a wide-ranging interview about the smartphone's past, present, and future. The report first reflects upon the iPhone's lack of support for third-party apps in its first year. The argument inside Apple was split between whether the iPhone should be a closed...
iCloud General Feature

iCloud+'s New Custom Email Domain Feature Now Available in Beta

Wednesday August 25, 2021 7:48 am PDT by
Starting with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey, users with a paid iCloud+ storage plan can personalize their iCloud email address with a custom domain name, such as johnny@appleseed.com, and the feature is now available in beta. iCloud+ subscribers interested in setting up a custom email domain can visit the beta.icloud.com website, select "Account Settings" under their name, and select ...
iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2

Full iPhone 13 Feature Breakdown: Everything Rumors Say We Can Expect

Tuesday August 31, 2021 7:50 am PDT by
With the launch of Apple's iPhone 13 lineup believed to be just a few weeks away, we have compiled all of the coherent rumors from our coverage over the past year to build a full picture of the features and upgrades coming to the company's new smartphones. For clarity, only explicit improvements, upgrades, and new features compared to the iPhone 12 lineup are listed. It is worth noting that...
iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2

Kuo: iPhone 13 to Feature LEO Satellite Communications to Make Calls and Texts Without Cellular Coverage

Sunday August 29, 2021 7:39 am PDT by
The iPhone 13 will feature low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication connectivity to allow users to make calls and send messages in areas without 4G or 5G coverage, according to the reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a note to investors, seen by MacRumors, Kuo explained that the iPhone 13 lineup will feature hardware that is able to connect to LEO satellites. If enabled with the relevant...
macbook air deals

Deals: Amazon Drops Price of 256GB M1 MacBook Air to New Low of $849.99 ($149 Off)

Friday August 27, 2021 6:16 am PDT by
Amazon today introduced new low prices on the M1 MacBook Air for both 256GB and 512GB storage options. To start, you can get the 256GB model for $849.99, down from an original price of $999.00. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. Only Silver and Gold are...
maxresdefault

New MacBook Pro Models Coming at WWDC, Suggests Leaker

Monday May 24, 2021 1:27 pm PDT by
New MacBook Pro models are coming at WWDC, according to leaker Jon Prosser who has a mixed track record when it comes to predicting Apple's plans. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Prosser provided no additional information, but there are new 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models in the works. The new MacBook Pros will feature the most radical redesign to the MacBook Pro ...
calculatorapp

iOS 11 Bug: Typing 1+2+3 Quickly in the Calculator App Won't Get You 6

Tuesday October 24, 2017 2:03 pm PDT by
A bug in the built-in Calculator app in iOS 11 is getting some major attention this week, despite the fact that it's been around since iOS 11 was in beta testing. At issue is a calculator animation that causes some symbols to be ignored when calculations are entered in rapid succession. You can try it for yourself: Type 1+2+3 and then the equals sign into the Calculator app quickly. Due to...
maxresdefault

'Being James Bond' Retrospective Will Be Free to Watch Through Apple TV App

Tuesday August 31, 2021 8:25 am PDT by
Update 9/7/21: "Being James Bond" is now available to watch through the Apple TV app. Ahead of the theatrical release of James Bond film "No Time To Die" on October 8 in the United States, a 45-minute retrospective titled "Being James Bond" will be available to watch for free through the Apple TV app, according to Deadline. The story from MGM is said to feature Daniel Craig reflecting ...
ted lasso notchless phone

No, That Notchless iPhone Spotted in 'Ted Lasso' Isn't the iPhone 13

Tuesday August 31, 2021 2:15 am PDT by
Recent sightings of a notchless iPhone in highly popular Apple TV+ comedy "Ted Lasso" have led to sensational headlines suggesting this is a canny bit of product placement on Apple's part and that the iPhone 13 will be notchless. In actuality – and this could go without saying – the phone in question is very likely just showing a poorly superimposed display added in post-production. Notchless ...