In 2016, after shooting at San Bernardino, FBI investigators failed to unlock the iPhone and turned to Apple for help. The company was asked to make a backdoor (a loophole in iOS firmware) for only one device so that authorities could access its data.
Apple then categorically refused , because it considered the claims illegal. The FBI had to turn to third-party firms and as a result, investigators went aroundprotecting iOS. It cost the bureau a round sum – it could be about two million dollars.
In 2018, hacking iphone for US law enforcement agencies is not a serious problem. The edition Motherboard found out what tools are now owned even by the US regional police in small towns.
After the shooting in San Bernardino, it became obvious that the tools for circumvention of iOS protection have a demand and various companies began to satisfy it. As a result of competition, several products appeared at once, relatively cheap and available to the US authorities.
One of them was the development of the Israeli company Cellebrite, which participated in the hacking of the very iPhone 5c, which belonged to the arrow from San Bernardino. In February 2018 Cellebrite began to publicly advertise its services to circumvent the protection of Apple’s smartphones among special services, police and private detectives.
In advertising, the company claimed that it can hack any iOS-devices, even on the latest version of the system. Cellebrite does not sell its product directly, apparently fearing leakage to Apple or the press, after which the exploited vulnerabilities will be closed.
If the police want to hack into an iOS device, they need to send it to the company’s office for a while, and they’ll send back an unlocked device. The procedure will cost only 1,5 thousand dollars.
It’s not clear how the company hacked the iOS protection, but most likely it uses unknown vulnerabilities that Apple can close in any of the following updates. Probably when this happens the company’s specialists simply find new security holes in the system.
A similar service from Grayshift is arranged differently: you do not need to send out smartphones, and you can hack devices faster and more efficiently. The engineers of the company came up with a small box called GrayKey, to which the iPhone is connected.
According to Forbes, one of Grayshift’s employees is a former security engineer at Apple, and the company conducts demonstrations for potential clients in police stations.
GrayKey is a 10 by 10 centimeter box from which two Lightning cables come out to connect with iPhones. The device is sold in two versions: for 15 thousand dollars you can get an online version that allows you to unlock only 300 iPhones ($ 50 per smartphone), and for 30 thousand dollars offer an offline version that hacks as many iPhones as the client wants.
The Motherboard edition found out that GrayKey is already being used by the police. A police officer in Indiana told reporters that his unit had recently received one of the boxes and would be used “in any cases where it could help identify criminals and lead to arrests.”
A representative of the Maryland Police said that his unit is at an early stage of buying GrayKey. Journalists learned that the box from Grayshift was acquired in more local units, for example, in the Miami-Dade district and the city ofIndianapolis.
At the disposal of the publication were electronic messages that indicate that at least six boxes GrayKey is planning to acquire the US Secret Service. Previously Motherboard reported such purchases for the State Department. It is not known whether the FBI instrument was acquired, but the bureau, together with the Ministry of Justice, returned to the discussion of the introduction of backdoors into smartphones in March 2018.
However, the existence of such a cheap alternative to backdoors, like GrayKey, opens up opportunities not only for US special services. In 2016, the Russian FSB began searching for a contractor to hack into popular smartphones, including Apple, and announced a tender for 1.5 million rubles.
However, the minimal version of GrayKey would cost the agency only 900 thousand rubles. And in March 2018 it became known that the FSB boughtsome devices from Cellebrite.