News Organizations Team Up in Lawsuit Against FBI Over San Bernardino iPhone Hacking Case

by

A group of three news outlets, including Gannett, the Associated Press and Vice Media, filed a lawsuit today against the FBI on grounds relating to the bureau's decision to keep its method of hacking into San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook's iPhone a secret. The news organizations are looking for more information about how exactly the FBI entered the iPhone, what "outside party" helped with the process, and how much the government paid for it (via USA Today).

Gannett, the AP, and Vice Media have each sought details on the hack under the Freedom of Information Act, but the FBI denied the requests, arguing that "revealing the records would imperil its enforcement efforts." Now the organizations are teaming up and asking the court to force the FBI to release the requested information.

iphone5c
While the security drama swirls, University of Cambridge researcher Sergei Skorobogatov has released proof countering the FBI's claim that it couldn't get into Farook's iPhone without Apple's help. In his report (via Engadget), Skorobagatov detailed his process in bypassing the passcode retry counter of an iPhone 5c running iOS 9, which he said "does not require any expensive and sophisticated equipment."

This was achieved by desoldering the NAND Flash chip of a sample phone in order to physically access its connection to the SoC and partially reverse engineering its proprietary bus protocol. The process does not require any expensive and sophisticated equipment. All needed parts are low cost and were obtained from local electronics distributors. By using the described and successful hardware mirroring process it was possible to bypass the limit on passcode retry attempts. This is the first public demonstration of the working prototype and the real hardware mirroring process for iPhone 5c.

After removing the NAND from the iPhone -- which requires "a temperature above 300 ºC...due to heavy heat sinking of the main PCB" -- he created a backup of it and placed it onto a custom-built, special test board. To continue the NAND mirroring process, following a successful creation and verification of the backup copy, the original chip is placed back into the iPhone 5c, where the researcher entered six passcode attempts, and then power cycled the device. In total, the process takes 90 seconds each time, meaning the true password could feasibly be discovered in "less than two days."

Once the phone is powered up and the screen is slid the passcode can be entered six times until the delay of one minute is introduced again. Then the process of mirroring from backup can be repeated again and again until the correct passcode is found. On average each cycle of mirroring for six passcode attempts takes 90 seconds. Hence, a full scan of all possible 4-digit passcodes will take about 40 hours or less than two days.

The fight between Apple and the FBI began earlier in the year when Apple refused to help the government unlock Farook's iPhone 5c under the belief that it could set a fearful precedent for security and privacy moving forward. The FBI didn't know what could potentially be on the device, but believed that any information gathered from it would potentially help move the case of the San Bernardino shooting forward in meaningful ways.

Although that particular case is over, FBI director James Comey said that he expects litigation over the encryption of mobile devices to continue, as encryption is "essential tradecraft" of terrorist organizations like ISIS. Technology and security have intersected more and more as smartphones grow more popular, with Comey also stating that WhatsApp's new end-to-end encryption was already "affecting the criminal work [of the FBI] in huge ways."

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

(View all)
Avatar
52 months ago
This is absolutely great that the news organizations brought this up to them and is practically calling them out on their bs.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago
Round 2: FINISH HIM.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago

I was never a fan of the FBI forcing Apple to break their OS. I am not sure that FBI has any responsibility to divulging how they finally broke into the phone. And why would the new organization want to know the hacking approach? Are they planning a hack of their own?

It will be interesting to see how it plays out. The way Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests work is everything is presumed to be subject to disclosure unless the info falls under specific exemptions in the act. It sounds like the FBI is relying on the exemption quoted below. I guess it will be the court's job to decide if the exemption applies in this case.

Quote from FOIA FAQ here ('https://www.foia.gov/faq.html#exemptions'):

7(E). Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.

Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago
Arguments start in 3..2..1..
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago
It's interesting how quickly Vice is gaining prominence. My introduction to them was the series of "travel" documentaries they did (definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen them). They do seem to have a distinct viewpoint and it shows in their coverage but I generally like their work. Much more interesting to me than what a lot of the traditional media is doing.

And good for these groups in pushing for access to the information, it's been sketchy how the FBI has been avoiding federal rules of disclosures in this case.

edit: this reminds me that we haven't heard anything with the release of the iPhone 7 about improvements to the secure enclave and firmware flashing. I wonder whether any steps were taken to reduce or eliminate their ability to apply updates without the consent of the device owner.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago
I was never a fan of the FBI forcing Apple to break their OS. I am not sure that FBI has any responsibility to divulging how they finally broke into the phone. And why would the new organization want to know the hacking approach? Are they planning a hack of their own?
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Here's How You Can Download iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 Around the World [It's Out]

Wednesday September 16, 2020 2:36 am PDT by
Apple's official public release of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 dropped on Wednesday, September 16, just a day after the company released the Golden Master to third-party developers. Also set to be made available to the general public for the first time are watchOS 7 and tvOS 14. Getting Started With iOS 14 Video Click image to watch iOS 14 Getting Started While that's left a lot of developers...

When Will the iPhone 12 Launch? Here's What We Know

Wednesday September 16, 2020 6:12 am PDT by
Yesterday's "Time Flies" Apple event saw the release of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad 8, and iPad Air 4, but no new iPhone models. Rumors before the event strongly alleged that it would not see the unveiling of new iPhones, with many reports pointing to an October launch. The lack of new iPhone models yesterday seems to confirm that the iPhone 12 lineup will not appear...

Apple Releases iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 With Home Screen Redesign, App Library, Compact UI, Translate App, Scribble Support, App Clips, and More

Wednesday September 16, 2020 12:48 pm PDT by
Apple has released iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, the newest operating system updates designed for the iPhone and iPad. As with all of Apple's software updates, iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 can be downloaded for free. iOS 14 is available on the iPhone 6s and later, while iPadOS 14 is available on the iPad Air 2 and later. The updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To ...

Apple Releases Safari 14 for Mac Ahead of macOS Big Sur Launch

Wednesday September 16, 2020 1:40 pm PDT by
macOS Big Sur didn't launch alongside iOS 14, iPadOS 14, tvOS 14, and watchOS 7 today, with the update coming later this fall, but Apple did release the Safari 14 update for macOS Catalina and macOS Mojave users. Safari 14 brings improved performance, customizable start pages, a Privacy Report to see which cross-site trackers are being blocked, and a new tab bar design that provides tab...

Apple Updates AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro Firmware to Version 3A283

Monday September 14, 2020 11:24 am PDT by
Apple today released new 3A283 firmware updates for the second-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro. The second-generation AirPods are being updated from the 2D15 firmware they were previously running, while the AirPods Pros are being updated from the 2D27 firmware they had installed previously. Apple does not provide details on what's included in refreshed firmware so we don't know what's ...

iOS 14 Picture in Picture No Longer Working With YouTube's Mobile Website in Safari [Without Premium]

Friday September 18, 2020 12:21 pm PDT by
Apple in iOS 14 added Picture in Picture to the iPhone, a feature designed to let you watch a video in a small screen on your device while you continue to do other things on the phone. When Picture in Picture was working with YouTube The YouTube app doesn't support Picture in Picture, but up until yesterday there was a functional workaround that allowed videos from YouTube.com to be watched...

Hands-On With the New Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE

Friday September 18, 2020 1:19 pm PDT by
Today's the official launch date for the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, both of which Apple announced on Tuesday. We picked up a couple of the new models and thought we'd give them a quick look for MacRumors readers thinking of ordering a new watch. Apple Watch Series 6 & Apple Watch SE Hands-On! When it comes to design, both the $399 Series 6 and the $279 SE look just like...

iOS 14.2 Beta Adds New Shazam Music Recognition Feature for Control Center

Thursday September 17, 2020 3:36 pm PDT by
Apple today released the first beta of iOS 14.2 to developers for testing purposes, and the new update introduces a Music Recognition control for the Control Center. The new feature lets you discover music playing around you and it recognizes the music playing with in apps, even when you're wearing AirPods. Songs pop up as notifications, and you can tap to listen in Apple Music....

8 Third-Party Home Screen Widgets That You Can Try Out Now on iOS 14

Wednesday August 5, 2020 12:56 pm PDT by
One of the biggest new features of iOS 14 is Home Screen widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. The widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. When the iOS 14 beta was first released in June, widgets were limited to Apple's own apps like Calendar and Weather, but several third-party developers have begun to test ...

Apple Releases watchOS 7 With New Watch Faces, Family Setup, Sleep Tracking, Handwashing Help and More

Wednesday September 16, 2020 12:47 pm PDT by
Apple today released watchOS 7, the newest version of the watchOS operating system designed to run on modern Apple Watch models. The watchOS 7 update comes after several months of beta testing. ‌watchOS 7‌ can be downloaded for free through the dedicated Apple Watch app on the iPhone by going to General > Software Update. To install the new software, the Apple Watch needs to have at...