After suddenly dropping Apple case, FBI now defeating security on iPhones in other cases

Well, that didn't take long, did it. Just days after the Justice Department dropped its high-profile case against Apple over the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, the FBI offered Wednesday to help a prosecutor in Arkansas hack an iPhone and an iPod in a double murder case.

AP was first to report that the FBI today agreed to defeat security features to allow access to the contents of those two iOS-running devices, which belonged to two teenagers charged with killing an elderly couple.

We still don't know what mysterious 'outside assistance' the FBI received, and rumors that an Israeli firm sold them an exploit remain unverified. The government says it won't share the method it used to access the San Bernardino iPhone, but it feels safe to assume that however they did it, they bought the rights to do it again and again. They're not telling Apple, or the rest of us.

From the Associated Press:

Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said the FBI agreed to the request from his office and the Conway Police Department Wednesday afternoon. A judge on Tuesday agreed to postpone the trial of 18-year-old Hunter Drexler so prosecutors could ask the FBI for help. Drexler's trial was moved from next week to June 27.

Drexler and 15-year-old Justin Staton are accused of killing Robert and Patricia Cogdell at their home in Conway, 30 miles north of Little Rock, in July. The Cogdells had raised Staton as their grandson.

The FBI announced Monday that it had gained access to an iPhone belonging to Syed Farook, who died with his wife in a gun battle with police after they killed 14 people in San Bernardino in December. The FBI hasn't revealed how it cracked Farook's iPhone. Authorities also haven't said whether the iPhone and iPod in the Arkansas case are the same models or whether the FBI will use the same method to try to get into the devices.

Hiland said he could not discuss details of the murder case in Arkansas, but confirmed the FBI had agreed less than a day after the initial request.

Hunter John Drexler, one of the two teens accused of murdering a couple who were grandparents in Arkansas.

Hunter John Drexler, one of the two teens accused of murdering a couple who were grandparents in Arkansas.

Notable Replies

  1. yeah isn't this illegal under the DMCA? Can't Apple sue the Feds for this?

    Where's my popcorn?

  2. If the FBI had an intern who'd taken the first semester of the Intro to Computer Science course at his college, they knew that neither Apple nor anyone else had built "airtight security" into a physical device.

    Obviously they'd have preferred to establish a precedent where Apple could be compelled to create exploits as needed and on demand, but I don't think anyone thought that this phone would stay at the lock screen forever if the FBI really and truly wanted in.

  3. and yet

    But for many of the remaining American smartphone users, strong data encryption was never really an option. Most Android phones don’t encrypt the data that’s stored on the device, and many come with messaging services that don’t encrypt data that’s sent back and forth between devices.
    Unlike iPhones, which are exclusively made by Apple, Android phones are produced by many different manufacturers. That’s made it much more difficult for Google—the company that designs Android software—to turn on device encryption by default. Many of the devices that run Android software have cheap or out-of-date hardware that can’t handle continuous encryption and decryption. Google recently required that all new Android devices encrypt device data by default—but exempted slower (and therefore cheaper) phones, making encryption a de-facto luxury feature

    so yes. Apple needs to go back the drawing board. But that doesn't mean that Android can be legitimately described as the secure alternative.

  4. Shash says:

    I guess, if you don't know anything about encryption or security...

    But there's no such thing as perfect security, especially if the attacker has physical access to the device.

  5. I think that you may be overestimating the curriculum of Intro CS 1.

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