The FBI motioned to postpone court hearings against Apple as a third party appeared at the last moment to help the agency in cracking the controversial iPhone 5c of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters. The third party is an Israeli company called Cellebrite. Apple welcomes the postponement but is not yet off the hook.
“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone…Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case,”
— Government representatives
“It’s important that the government take all steps possible before asking for wide-reaching powers that would dramatically impact the future of cybersecurity for years to come… It is now clear that, in this case, they hadn’t,”
— Darrell Issa, California Republican Representative
“…We only learned about this possibility today, this morning about the possibility that Apple is not necessary… and we have good faith basis at this point…”
— Tracy Wilkison, Assistant US Attorney
As the opportunity presented itself, the FBI is obligated to test whether this method still works before forcing Apple to create a solution under the All Writs Act. Should it work, Apple’s services will no longer be required but it will leave the company scratching its head as to how some third party can crack their product. Cellebrite is a company that specializes in forensic solutions used by law enforcement and intelligence and it may have the tools necessary to override Apple’s encryption or at least remove the safeguards preventing the FBI from performing brute force hacking on the phone. Trust Israel to help on matters regarding Islamic terrorists.
As we all know, the reason Apple doesn’t want to cooperate is that it fears the FBI or parties other than the FBI could get their hands on the backdoor once it’s created so they’d rather not create one anyway. Like the female dinosaurs in Jurassic Park breeding on their own without any males, life will find a way. The custom code might find its way out of the FBI’s custody or from Apple itself. Or the government itself will use the backdoor as a way to spy remotely on other iPhones and infringe American citizens’ civil liberties. Another side to Apple’s argument, if the company’s sincerity is put to question, Apple simply doesn’t want the world to know that the iPhone is not as secure as they say it is.
As per TechCrunch, Cellebrite declined to talk about the issue nor discuss on its approach it would take to help the FBI. But here are the following possible methods:
- Jailbreaking the iPhone. As per Ars Technica, the FBI needs to get someone to find another hole in Apple’s SecureROM to enable them to perform a jailbreak.
- Peeling off the layers. The FBI needs to perform a dangerous operation on the iPhone’s processor by peeling off layers to get to the processor’s embedded ID, which is unique for each chip. It’s a dangerous method that the FBI would rather not attempt which is why it chose to go to Apple.
- Hire a third party to look for a software-based exploit to bypass the lock screen. In other words, hack the phone.
- Memory Mirroring, which is a technique Edward Snowden, suggested the FBI is already capable of which is why experts suggest that the FBI is really up to something in asking for a custom version of iOS. The NAND memory of the Phone can be removed and duplicated over and over so the FBI can test all 9,999 PIN combinations without harming the original iPhone. It’s a costly process but for the interests of national security and maybe the cost one F-35 plane, why not? Again, something could be amiss with the FBI request.
- Or maybe Cellebrite has perfected any one of the three techniques or has something entirely different up their sleeve.
So the FBI cracks the phone. What if they do find the information they’re looking for? A list of other nutjobs Syed had been in contact with? In light of the recent attack in Belgium, some people have changed their minds to side with the FBI and more to follow if the FBI was right. After which, the question arises whether or not the FBI should share the cracking method Cellebrite used with Apple in case they succeed? That is if Cellebrite shares the technique with the FBI. Maybe they might let Tim Cook stew for a little while.