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
49 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
49 months ago
Round 2: FINISH HIM.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
49 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
49 months ago
Arguments start in 3..2..1..
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
49 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
49 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

Apple's First MacBook Pro With a Retina Display Will Become 'Obsolete' in 30 Days

Monday June 1, 2020 7:50 am PDT by
If you are still hanging on to a Mid 2012 model of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a Retina display, and require a new battery or other repairs, be sure to book an appointment with a service provider as soon as possible. In an internal memo today, obtained by MacRumors, Apple has indicated that this particular MacBook Pro model will be marked as "obsolete" worldwide on June 30, 2020, just over...

Five Mac Apps Worth Checking Out - June 2020

Tuesday June 2, 2020 2:25 pm PDT by
Apps developed for the Mac often don't receive as much coverage as apps designed for iPhones and iPads, so we have a series at MacRumors that highlights interesting Mac apps that are worth taking a look at. This month's apps are designed to make working from home a little bit easier. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Meeter (Free) - Working from home often...

Apple Music Joins Music Industry's Blackout Tuesday Awareness Campaign

Tuesday June 2, 2020 1:31 am PDT by
Apple Music has cancelled its Beats 1 radio schedule for Blackout Tuesday and is suggesting that listeners tune in to a radio stream celebrating the best in black music. Blackout Tuesday is a campaign organized by the music industry to support Black Lives Matter after Minneapolis citizen George Floyd was killed by police in the course of his arrest. On launching Apple Music, many users...

Next Apple Pencil Could Be Released in Black

Tuesday June 2, 2020 10:25 am PDT by
The next iteration of the Apple Pencil could be available in black for the first time, according to leaker Mr. White who shared the tidbit on Twitter this morning. A mockup of an Apple Pencil in black We haven't heard rumors of a next-generation Apple Pencil and it's not clear when a new model might be released. Apple is rumored to be working on mini-LED versions of the iPad Pro, and it's...

iPad Pro With A14X Chip, 5G, and Mini-LED Display Expected in First Half of 2021

Wednesday June 3, 2020 6:22 am PDT by
Apple plans to launch new iPad Pro models with an A14X chip, 5G connectivity, and a Mini-LED display in the first or second quarter of 2021, according to the increasingly reliable Twitter account L0vetodream. The leaker claims that the new iPad Pro models will be equipped with Qualcomm's Snapdragon X55 modem, which supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz. mmWave is a set of 5G frequencies that...

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.5 Supplemental Update With Security Fix

Monday June 1, 2020 10:56 am PDT by
Apple today released a supplemental update for macOS Catalina 10.15.5, the fifth update to the macOS Catalina operating system that was released in October 2019. The supplemental update comes a week after the release of the macOS Catalina 10.15.5 update. ‌macOS Catalina‌ 10.15.5 is a free update that can be downloaded from the Mac App Store using the Update feature in the System...

Tim Cook Addresses George Floyd's Death and Ensuing Protests and Riots as Apple Temporarily Closes Some U.S. Stores

Sunday May 31, 2020 8:04 pm PDT by
Amid unrest in numerous U.S. cities following last week's killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Apple CEO Tim Cook has shared an internal memo with employees (via Bloomberg) addressing the pain that many are feeling and urging others to commit "to creating a better, more just world for everyone." Cook also announced that Apple is making donations to several groups challenging...

iCloud Down for Many Users, Causing 'The Application You Have Selected Does Not Exist' Error [Update: Fixed]

Tuesday June 2, 2020 4:44 pm PDT by
iCloud appears to be down for many people at the current time, based on complaints from MacRumors readers and Twitter users. Apple's system status page was not initially displaying an error when the problems started, but has been updated to confirm an issue with iCloud account sign ins. The support site says that some users may be unable to sign in to their iCloud accounts and may also be...

iOS 14 Again Said to Be Compatible With All iPhones Able to Run iOS 13

Monday June 1, 2020 2:08 pm PDT by
iOS 14 will be compatible with all iPhones and iPod touch models able to run iOS 13, according to information shared today by Israeli site The Verifier. The compatibility data was allegedly found in a leaked version of iOS 14 and confirmed by what The Verifier says is a "trusted source from the system development process." iOS 13 is compatible with the iPhone 6s and later, with a full...

iPhone 13 Prototype Mockup Depicts Notch-Free Design and USB-C Port

Thursday June 4, 2020 10:07 am PDT by
We still have a few months to go before Apple unveils the iPhone 12, but rumors about the iPhone 13, coming in fall 2021, are already circulating. Japanese site Mac Otakara today shared a rough 3D printed mockup of a 5.5-inch iPhone said to be coming in 2021, which is from "Alibaba sources." The model may be built on leaked specifications and rumors, but where the info comes from is unclear. ...