Smartphone encryption is law enforcement’s new boogeyman, and the right of citizens to protect their data and communications from prying eyes is directly under attack on multiple fronts. With so many forces conspiring to weaken our phones’ security, we’d been looking forward to Apple getting its day in court to fight the government’s efforts to compel it to re-write iOS code with the express purpose of defeating intentional security measures. Unfortunately for those of us anticipating this showdown, Apple never got its chance to defeat the order, and the DoJ backed out of the proceedings at the last minute, saying “an outside party” had recently demonstrated to the FBI a method for retrieving the data it was going after – without Apple’s help. But just who is the FBI’s mysterious new partner? A new report identifies an Israeli forensic software firm as the source of this assistance.
The company, Cellebrite, sells a number of off-the-shelf data extraction tools for mobile devices, as well as software that enables analysis of such data. It’s not clear if the solution the company brought to the FBI’s attention is based on one of these existing products, or if Cellebrite may have developed a novel technique.
Certainly, we’ve heard of some ways that it should be possible to access the data on the encrypted iPhone 5c in question without Apple’s assistance, but that doesn’t make us any less curious to learn of the technique the FBI ultimately intends to take advantage of – especially after all the fuss it put into strong-arming Apple.
Unfortunately, for now neither the FBI, Justice Department, nor Cellebrite itself are saying much. We may never get the full story on what methods they end up applying, but we should have an update of some kind in about two weeks, with the government scheduled to update the court on its efforts.