locked iPhones is seeing wide adoption among police forces and
federal agencies across the United States according to a recent
Motherboard found that regional police forces like the
Maryland State Police, the Indiana State Police, and the
Miami-Dade County Police have purchased or are soon purchasing
GrayKey technology, while other forces like the Indianapolis
Metropolitan Police Department have looked into boxes and
received quotes from GrayShift.
The Secret Service is also planning to purchase “at least half a
dozen” GrayKey boxes for unlocking iPhones, while the State
Department has already bought them and the Drug Enforcement
Administration has expressed interest.
Current FBI Director Christopher Wray
said in January at the International Conference on Cyber
Security that law enforcement officials are facing a “Going
Dark” challenge where an “enormous” number of cases rely on an
electronic device. “We’re increasingly unable to access that
evidence, despite lawful authority to do so,” said Wray.
Motherboard‘s investigation into GrayShift, the
GrayKey iPhone unlocking boxes, and other smartphone unlocking
methods suggest that is not the case. The FBI uses the going
dark debate to advocate for easier access to electronic devices
through backdoors, but the seemingly readily available tools
like GrayKey undermine these arguments.
“It demonstrates that even state and local police do have
access to this data in many situations,” Matthew Green, an
assistant professor and cryptographer at the Johns Hopkins
Information Security Institute, told Motherboard in a Twitter
message. “This seems to contradict what the FBI is saying about
their inability to access these phones.”
“The availability and affordability of these tools undercuts
law enforcement’s continual assertions that they need
smartphone vendors to be forced to build ‘exceptional access’
capabilities into their devices,” Riana Pfefferkorn,
cryptography fellow at the Stanford Center for Internet and
Society, told Motherboard in a Twitter message.
In recent months, law enforcement officials have
quietly revisiting proposals that would require tech
companies to build backdoor access into smartphones and other
electronics, something Apple vehemently fought
against back in 2016 following the San Bernardino shooting
where the FBI attempted to order the company to provide it with a
tool to crack the iPhone 5c involved in the case.
As has been previously
reported, the GrayKey mentioned by Motherboard is
a small, portable gray box that’s equipped with dual Lightning
cables. An iPhone can be plugged into one of the cables to
install proprietary software that’s able to guess the passcode
for an iPhone in either a few hours or a few days, depending on
the strength of the passcode.
Once the GrayKey software has unlocked an iPhone, it can be
plugged back into the GrayKey box to download all of the data
on the iPhone. GrayKey can crack the latest iPhones running
modern versions of iOS, including iOS 11, providing law
enforcement officials with easy access to locked iPhones for
Grayshift charges $15,000 for a GrayKey box that requires
internet connectivity, is geofenced to a specific location, and
allows for 300 unlocks, or $30,000 for a box that requires no
connection, can be used anywhere, and can unlock an unlimited
number of devices.
As Motherboard points out, the technology used in the
GrayKey boxes may eventually be outdated through updates to the
iOS operating system, leading to periods where some versions of
iOS may be difficult to access. Because of the ongoing cat and
mouse game of Apple patching a vulnerability as third-party
iPhone cracking services look for new methods to get into
iPhones, the argument for backdoors into smartphones is likely
to surface time and time again.
Motherboard‘s full report on the iPhone unlocking
tools available to law enforcement officials can be
viewed over on the website.
Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion
regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our
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