FBI vs. Apple: Who Is Helping the FBI?
On Monday, the FBI asked the court for a two-week delay in a scheduled hearing on the San Bernardino iPhone case, because some “third party” approached it with a way into the phone. It wanted time to test this access method.
Who approached the FBI? We have no idea.
I have avoided speculation because the story makes no sense. Why did this third party wait so long? Why didn’t the FBI go through with the hearing anyway?
Now we have speculation that the third party is the Israeli forensic company Cellebrite. From its website:
Support for Locked iOS Devices Using UFED Physical Analyzer
Using UFED Physical Analyzer, physical and file system extractions, decoding and analysis can be performed on locked iOS devices with a simple or complex passcode. Simple passcodes will be recovered during the physical extraction process and enable access to emails and keychain passwords. If a complex password is set on the device, physical extraction can be performed without access to emails and keychain. However, if the complex password is known, emails and keychain passwords will be available.
My guess is that it’s not them. They have an existing and ongoing relationship with the FBI. If they could crack the phone, they would have done it months ago. This purchase order seems to be coincidental.
In any case, having a company name doesn’t mean that the story makes any more sense, but there it is. We’ll know more in a couple of weeks, although I doubt the FBI will share any more than they absolutely have to.
This development annoys me in every way. This case was never about the particular phone, it was about the precedent and the general issue of security vs. surveillance. This will just come up again another time, and we’ll have to through this all over again—maybe with a company that isn’t as committed to our privacy as Apple is.
EDITED TO ADD: Watch former NSA Director Michael Hayden defend Apple and iPhone security. I’ve never seen him so impassioned before.
EDITED TO ADD (3/26): Marcy Wheeler has written extensively about the Cellebrite possibility
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