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FBI tells How It Hacked The IPhone

Recently, The FBI has been keeping how it managed to break into an IPhone used by Syed Farook; one of the terrorists responsible for the attack in San Bernardino, California. But now the FBI has been telling its secret to some of the members of Congress.

The Feds have started briefing some US Senators about how they accessed the data stored on Farooks IPhone 5C. This phone has been at the center of the clash between Apple and the FBI, and has sparked a bigger, general debate over online privacy and security.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein(D-Calif.) had been briefed by the FBI on how it got into the IPhone, a representative from her office confirmed to CNET, though he declined to give any details about the briefing. Feinstein is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the backers for a bill that will make sure the government can access encrypted data.

“Encryption is the Achilles heel of the Internet,” Feinstein said.

The National Journal, which had originally reported the news of the briefings by the FBI, had also said that Sen. Richard Burr(R-N.C.), another chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-sponsor of the encryption bill, along with Feinstein, was offered a briefing but hasn’t taken it yet. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The National Journal reported that both Burr and Feinstein believe Apple shouldn’t be given information on how the FBI managed to hack the phone.  “I don’t believe the government has any obligation to Apple,” Feinstein told the National Journal. “No company of individual is above the law, and I’m dismayed that anyone would refuse to help the government in a major terrorism investigation.”

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies usually give classified briefings to federal intelligence committees, but don’t have the same obligation to tell companies how they get around their security controls if sharing the information could hurt any investigations. A day before the hearing was set to see whether Apple had to help the FBI unlock the phone, the FBI said it had found another way into the phone.

A week later, the FBI said it had successfully accessed the data on the Farook’s IPhone 5C, but declined to share how they actually did it with Apple. Apple, who has been fighting a search warrant to help the FBI unlock the phone said they want the information so they can make sure they’re devices are secure.

The fight between Apple and the FBI sparked technology companies and rights groups to argue that strong encryption, which scrambles data so it can be read only by who its meant to be seen by, is need to keep people safe and protect privacy. On the other side of the fight, law enforcement agencies argue that it can’t fight crimes unless it has access to information on mobile devices. The clash between Apple and the FBI brought more attention to the encryption battle, which is sure to keep building.

Reuters reported Wednesday that the White House won’t offer public support for the encryption legislation soon to be proposed by Burr and Feinstein. Barack Obama previously had supported the bill, saying last month that Americans have always made privacy trade-offs with the government when it comes to public safety. – Urban Guerrilla1


  1. Was the sign off necessary?

  2. This is fucking totalitarianism at its worst. Unless you’re a dip-shit, using Tails or its equivalent is an absolute must. Next on the US fascists shit-list will be open-source projects, such as the Tor Network. They won’t, however, accomplish a fucking thing. Open-source encryption software will continue to thrive; if anything, the US efforts to limit privacy by fuckhead senators will only lead to a world which is less safe. People will resent it, leading more and more of them to become Tor operators, even using clandestine means; this will result in the Tor network becoming bigger, hence, safer.

  3. good article but it doesnt offer any details…the headline covered it< i wasted the next several m8nutes hoping for some intel. anybody actually have a clue how they did it?

    • disgruntled_peasant

      Although the feds are keeping whatever method they utilized close to their vests, it is quite interesting to me that they allowed it to be known that the method employed is not viable for iphone newer than the 5c model in question.

      The key difference scuirty-wise between all the models after the 5c is the addition of the so-called ‘secure enclave’ which is supposed to be a read-only memory module where the uuid derived keys are stored isolated from the rest of the system bus. Whether this key storage space is truly is read-only is severely questioned amongst those familiar with embedded systems and the apple update subsystem…

      Those phones without this secure enclave (think of of it as a keychain basically) have to store their keys on the same memory module as the phone’s fixed storage. So in my opinion, this is what was exploited.

      Essentially, one unsolders the nand flash module from the main logic board and plugs it into an EEPROM reader and dumps the contents. Now you have a safe backup of the phone’s contents (including the keys *if* you can precisely locate where they are on the drive, remember its encrypted so it all looks like jibberish on a hex editor unless apple made a mistake with cryptographic padding and the keys are stored in repeatable non-random location on the memory module).

      If it was not an exploit targeting the keys themselves, another perhaps more likely attack vector is a simple brute force method, not on the phone itself, but the dumped contents of the flash module. It is relatively trivial to setup tens of thousands of virtualized IOS instances all utilizing those dumped memory contents and throwing one passcode per instance until you find the correct one. I would be shocked if cellebrite did not already offer this service to those with the nessecary pocket depth…

      In short, no matter what the hardware vendor says (assuming they are being honest which is almost never the case), once you loose physical possession of a device whatever security precautions built in are almost certainly going to be defeated assuming your adversary is a nation-state level actor.

  4. i hope he will not find him

  5. Whats the point of this article without the method being posted?

    And shouldn’t they have to publish the method before the trial so that the defense can examine it on their own? After all, with out that they can just say the phone contained whatever they want.

  6. Go fuck yourself FBI lazy, Do hacking it! ISIS’s friendship FBI!?

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