Menu
US DOJ knew of possible iPhone-cracking method before FBI v Apple case

US DOJ knew of possible iPhone-cracking method before FBI v Apple case

The DEA filed a warrant request to use an iPhone cracking technology weeks before the FBI went to court against Apple

Weeks before the FBI sought a court order forcing Apple to help it break into an iPhone used by one of the the San Bernardino gunmen, a sister agency in the Department of Justice was already using an Israeli security firm's technology to attempt to crack a similar device.

The FBI and the DOJ have repeatedly insisted that they had no other option but to force Apple to help them crack an iPhone used by the gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, at least until an outside party offered assistance earlier this week.

“We have engaged all parts of the U.S. government” to find a way to access the device without Apple’s help, FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers in early March. “If we could have done this quietly and privately, we would have done it.”

But more than two weeks before a judge ordered Apple to assist the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, also a division of the DOJ, filed a warrant request in a Maryland court asking to use technology from security firm Cellebrite to defeat the password protections on a suspected drug dealer's iPhone.

The warrant request noted that "Apple devices hold a unique encryption" that often only Apple can bypass, suggesting that the DEA was unsure if Cellebrite's method would work. But it still seems at odds with the DOJ's insistence in the San Bernardino case that it knew of no possible alternatives to access the device.

A Maryland judge approved the search warrant on Feb. 16, the same day California Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to provide technical assistance to the FBI in the San Bernardino case.

The FBI wanted Apple's help to do the the same thing investigators were trying to do in the Maryland case -- defeat the password protections on an iPhone. Cellebrite is reportedly the "outside party" now assisting the FBI in the California shooting case.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the identity of the outside party or the DEA's use of Cellebrite.

The DOJ has based its case against Apple on the All Writs Act, a 1789 law that allows courts to "issue all writs necessary or appropriate" to implement the law, but only when they have no other legal options available.

In the Maryland drug case, the warrant application describes how Cellebrite would be used to defeat password protections on a suspect's iPhone 6 and other smartphones.

"The device and all readable and searchable contents will be attempted to be downloaded to a 'CellBrite' [sic] device," the Maryland warrant application says. "The 'CellBrite' device allows the user to bypass any password protected utility on the phone."

The iPhone contents "will then be copied to a readable computer disc" and reviewed by the court, the warrant application says.

Farook's iPhone was a 5C model, while the Maryland suspect's device was a 6 series phone.

Critics of the FBI's case against Apple are now questioning whether the agency should have moved forward with its case without disclosing the possibility of using Cellebrite to hack Farook's phone.

The FBI and DOJ now appear to be backing down in the Apple case because of public opinion and a possibility they won't get the court precedent they seek, said Evan Greer, campaign director for digital rights group Fight for the Future.

"The FBI’s last minute excuse is about as believable as an undergrad who comes down with the flu the night before their paper is due," Greer said via email. "They should come clean immediately."


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags applefbi

Featured

Slideshows

Meet the leading female front runners of the Kiwi channel

Meet the leading female front runners of the Kiwi channel

Reseller News honoured the leading female front runners of the New Zealand channel at the 2018 Women in ICT Awards (WIICTA) in Auckland. The awards honoured standout individuals across seven categories, spanning Entrepreneur; Innovation; Rising Star; Shining Star; Community; Technical and Achievement.

Meet the leading female front runners of the Kiwi channel
Meet the top performing customer-centric Microsoft channel partners

Meet the top performing customer-centric Microsoft channel partners

Microsoft honoured leading partners across the channel following a year of customer innovation and market growth in New Zealand. The 2018 Microsoft Partner Awards recognised excellence within the context of the end-user, spanning a host of emerging and established providers.

Meet the top performing customer-centric Microsoft channel partners
Reseller News launches new-look Awards at 2018 Judges’ Lunch

Reseller News launches new-look Awards at 2018 Judges’ Lunch

Introducing the Reseller News Innovation Awards, launched to the channel at the 2018 Judges’ Lunch in Auckland. With more than 70 judges now part of the voting panel, the new-look awards will reflect the changing dynamics of the channel, recognising excellence across customer value and innovation - spanning start-ups, partners, distributors and vendors.

Reseller News launches new-look Awards at 2018 Judges’ Lunch
Show Comments