FBI Forensic Examiner Stephen Flatley Calls Apple 'Jerks' and 'Evil Geniuses' for Encrypting iPhones

Senior FBI forensic examiner Stephen R. Flatley spoke at the International Conference on Cyber Security yesterday, and during the talk he discussed Apple and the FBI's differing opinions on the topic of smartphone encryption. According to Motherboard, Flatley described the company as "jerks" and "evil geniuses" for creating iOS device encryption that is so powerful as to prevent Apple itself from entering users' iPhones.

Flatley said that recent updates to Apple device encryption have made password guesses slower, by increasing hash iterations from 10 thousand to 10 million, "making his and his colleagues' investigative work harder." This extended brute force crack time from a few days to two months, leading to Flatley stating that Apple is "pretty good at evil genius stuff." No detailed context was given regarding his "jerks" comment.

Image of Stephen Flatley taken by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai via Motherboard

That means, he explained, that “password attempts speed went from 45 passwords a second to one every 18 seconds,” referring to the difficulty of cracking a password using a “brute force” method in which every possible permutation is tried. There are tools that can input thousands of passwords in a very short period of time—if the attempts per minute are limited, it becomes much harder and slower to crack.

"Your crack time just went from two days to two months," Flatley said. “At what point is it just trying to one up things and at what point is it to thwart law enforcement?" he added. "Apple is pretty good at evil genius stuff."

Flatley's comments come nearly two years after the Apple-FBI dispute began, when a federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI enter the iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino. The FBI said it wanted Apple's help to enter just Farook's iPhone 5c, but Apple explained that the software it was asked to create could become a "master key" and be able to get information from any iPhone or iPad.

For this reason, Apple denied the request and CEO Tim Cook penned an open letter describing the potential for setting a "dangerous precedent" if the company did go along with the order. The battle eventually ended a few months later after the government discovered an alternative way of entering Farook's iPhone 5c, reportedly with the help of Israeli firm Cellebrite.

Flately mentioned Cellebrite as well during the security conference, describing the firm as "another evil genius" that counters Apple's encryption and can help the FBI when it needs to enter a smartphone. The forensic examiner was described as not clearly stating Cellebrite's name, but "facetiously coughing" at the same time to somewhat obscure the comment.

Although the Apple-FBI dispute has ended, debates over smartphone encryption have remained ongoing the past few years. In October 2017, a report came out stating that the FBI was unable to retrieve data from 6,900 mobile devices it had attempted to gain access to over the previous 11 months. That number accounted for half of the total devices the FBI tried to get into, and FBI Director Christopher Wray described the FBI's inability to retrieve information from these devices as a "huge, huge problem."

At the end of the case in 2016, Apple issued a statement explaining that the company will continue to assist the FBI when it can, but not at the expense of the data protection, security, and privacy of its customers: "Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security, and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk."

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
29 months ago
They wouldn't have to do stuff like this if you could use your powers responsibly.
Score: 73 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
I guess this firms up how good Apple’s encryption is. It’s nice to have a little peace of mind knowing that.
Score: 70 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
boo hoo
Score: 64 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
People are allowed privacy. Sorry if the government doesn’t like it. The jerks are the authoritarians who don’t believe that. If I completely burned paper they could read it either.
Score: 64 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
After the fake dossier used to get a FISA warrant, the FBI has zero credibility.
Score: 41 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago

After the fake dossier used to get a FISA warrant, the FBI has zero credibility.

Only fake to the Fake President and his hating & blind supporters.
Score: 36 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Acquires Weather App Dark Sky

Tuesday March 31, 2020 10:22 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple has acquired weather app Dark Sky, Dark Sky's developers announced today. Dark Sky is one of the most popular weather apps on the App Store, known for its accuracy and storm warnings. Our goal has always been to provide the world with the best weather information possible, to help as many people as we can stay dry and safe, and to do so in a way that respects your privacy. There is no ...

Seemingly Unreleased Version of Logic Pro X With Live Loops Appears on Apple's Education Site [Updated]

Sunday March 29, 2020 7:23 am PDT by Hartley Charlton
Update: Apple has replaced the Logic Pro X image with an older version. Original story follows. A seemingly unreleased version of Logic Pro X has appeared on Apple's education site, as spotted by a Reddit user. The image from Apple's education products page shows a 16-inch MacBook Pro running Logic Pro X, but with a familiar interface that looks extremely similar to GarageBand's Live Loops ...

Bloomberg: Apple's 5G iPhone Still on Schedule for Fall Launch, But Future Products Could Be Delayed

Monday March 30, 2020 2:40 am PDT by Tim Hardwick
Apple's 5G iPhone is still on track to launch within the company's typical annual fall release schedule, according to a new Bloomberg report on filed on Monday. Signs are that Apple's Chinese-centric manufacturing -- of which Hon Hai is the linchpin -- is slowly getting back on track. The next iPhones with 5G wireless capabilities remain on schedule to launch in the fall, partly because mass...

Case for Upcoming Low-Cost iPhone Shows Up at Best Buy With Alleged April 5 Stock Date

Monday March 30, 2020 4:25 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple has a new low-cost iPhone in the works, which is supposed to be launching sometime in the first half of 2020. Given the ongoing situation in the United States and other countries, it's been unclear if the device is going to launch within the planned timeline, but there are signs that it could be coming soon. We started seeing cases for the new low-cost iPhone back in early February,...

Testing Brydge's New Pro+ Keyboard With Trackpad for iPad Pro

Monday March 30, 2020 2:04 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Well ahead of when Apple introduced trackpad support in iOS 13.4, Brydge announced an iPad Pro keyboard with a built-in multi-touch trackpad. We have one of Brydge's new Pro+ keyboards on hand, and thought we'd check it out to see how it works with Apple's new 2020 iPad Pro models. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The Brydge Pro+ keyboard is similar in design to...

Apple's Work on New Upcoming Products Progressing Normally as Employees Adjust to Telecommuting

Monday March 30, 2020 11:58 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple's development of upcoming products is progressing as usual despite the fact that Apple employees around the world are working from home, according to a new report today out from Bloomberg. Apple is still working on new versions of the HomePod, Apple TV, MacBook Pro, budget iPads, Apple Watch, iPhone, and iMac, all of which could be released "as early as later this year" and have been...

Apple Releases ProRes RAW Beta for Windows

Monday March 30, 2020 9:33 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple today released ProRes RAW for Windows in a beta capacity (via Mark Gurman), with the software designed to allow ProRes RAW and ProRes RAW HQ video files to be watched in compatible applications on Windows machines. According to Apple, the software will let the files be played within several Adobe apps: Adobe After Effects (Beta) Adobe Media Encocder (Beta) Adobe Premiere...

2020 iPad Pro Teardown Provides Closer Look at LiDAR Scanner and Confirms Incremental Update

Saturday March 28, 2020 9:56 am PDT by Hartley Charlton
iFixit today shared a video teardown of the new iPad Pro, which Apple unveiled earlier this month. iFixit found that most of the internals of the 2020 iPad Pro are the same as the 2018 model, confirming that the device is a relatively incremental update. The most notable new feature seen inside the new iPad Pro was the LiDAR scanner, which measures the distance to surrounding objects up...

Apple Configurator 2 Updated With New Features, Including Support for Restoring Firmware on 2019 Mac Pro

Tuesday March 31, 2020 5:34 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple Configurator 2 has been updated to version 2.12 with several improvements, including support for restoring firmware on the 2019 Mac Pro. The release notes:• Added support for restoring firmware on the 2019 Mac Pro • Allow access to websites using TLS 1.0 and 1.1 • VPN: Configure Provider Designated Requirement for Custom SSL connection type • VPN: Configure network options for ...

U.S. Government Using Mobile Ad Location Data to Track Compliance With Curbs on Movement

Monday March 30, 2020 4:48 am PDT by Tim Hardwick
The U.S. government is using smartphone location data from the mobile ad industry to track people's movements amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Local governments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have received the anonymized data about people in areas of "geographic interest," with the aim being to create a portal of geolocation...