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Iphone Crime Encryption Government Privacy Apple

Apple Deluged By Police Demands To Decrypt iPhones 239

New submitter ukemike points out an article at CNET reporting on a how there's a "waiting list" for Apple to decypt iPhones seized by various law enforcement agencies. This suggests two important issues: first, that Apple is apparently both capable of and willing to help with these requests, and second, that there are too many of them for the company to process as they come in. From the article: "Court documents show that federal agents were so stymied by the encrypted iPhone 4S of a Kentucky man accused of distributing crack cocaine that they turned to Apple for decryption help last year. An agent at the ATF, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 'contacted Apple to obtain assistance in unlocking the device,' U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell wrote in a recent opinion. But, she wrote, the ATF was 'placed on a waiting list by the company.' A search warrant affidavit prepared by ATF agent Rob Maynard says that, for nearly three months last summer, he "attempted to locate a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency with the forensic capabilities to unlock' an iPhone 4S. But after each police agency responded by saying they 'did not have the forensic capability,' Maynard resorted to asking Cupertino. Because the waiting list had grown so long, there would be at least a 7-week delay, Maynard says he was told by Joann Chang, a legal specialist in Apple's litigation group. It's unclear how long the process took, but it appears to have been at least four months."
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Apple Deluged By Police Demands To Decrypt iPhones

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  • by APE992 ( 676540 ) on Saturday May 11, 2013 @11:15PM (#43699651) Journal
    If they're going to expect Apple to spend time doing their work for them are they are least compensating them for the time and energy necessary for this?
  • by noh8rz10 ( 2716597 ) on Saturday May 11, 2013 @11:24PM (#43699719)
    i see this story as being a GOOD thing, generally speaking. the feds are stumped by my iphone. now the only people we need to cockblock are in cupertino...
  • by Frankie70 ( 803801 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @12:01AM (#43699911)

    Unless the iPhone has a backdoor - the effort required for either Apple or others should be the same. Does this mean that the iPhone has a backdoor?

  • How ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @12:20AM (#43699977) Journal

    i see this story as being a GOOD thing, generally speaking. the feds are stumped by my iphone. now the only people we need to cockblock are in cupertino

    The question is, how ?

    The Apple platform is a closed platform, and they closely guard against any attempt to change their products (even after we have purchased them with our own money)

    Until now, there is no way to safeguard our secret stored in i-Device from the prying eyes of Apple Inc

  • by FuzzNugget ( 2840687 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @12:45AM (#43700047)

    You're deluding yourself if you think a backdoor is a good thing.

    No, this is overall a bad thing: Apple is able and willing to break the encryption on an iPhone, presumably through a backdoor or brute force.

    Then again, we could all be mistakenly conflating "encryption" with "lock screen", which really speaks to the level of (in)competence on the part of law enforcement.

    Hmmm, maybe this is a good thing (just not quite in the way you were thinking)

  • by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @12:59AM (#43700103) Homepage

    Maybe the backdoor isn't so much the crypto format itself - it's in the password to decrypt. After all - these companies have a thing for you sharing information 'in the cloud', right? What's to stop them from simply posting your password somewhere central - for recovery purposes on your (and apparently, other people's) behalf? I reckon 90% of users would find it super-convenient!

  • by blaster ( 24183 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @01:50AM (#43700305)

    Apple does not have a backdoor per se. But Apple does have the device signing key and can thus completely compromise the chain of trust. The only thing stopping you from compromising a phone with a 4 digit passcode in seconds by brute forcing it is the fact that software rate limits attempts, and the option to have it delete its intermediary keys after 10 bad attempts. If you have the ability to load an arbitrary kernel it is trivial to bypass both of these, but only Apple has that capability, at least on devices without jailbreaks that can be executed them while locked.

    If you want to make sure your data is secure then use a full password and not a PIN, which will make Apple's ability to run code moot since brute forcing it will not be practical any more. You can look at [] for more info on the actual architecture.

  • by blaster ( 24183 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @04:00AM (#43700677)

    Would you have preferred if I had written "Apple does not actually need a backdoor per se in order toto perform the actions mentioned in the article?" My point was that what law enforcement is asking does not require a backdoor, since a lot of posters seem to think it implies there must be one. Furthermore, security researchers can and do look and see how all the signing keys etc are structured on running systems even without source code access. Is there a chance there is still something hidden, sure, but there is also a chance someone snuck a root exploit into an innocuous looking commit in an important open source project. Source code access generally does lead to more trustworthy code, but it isn't so black and white as you claim. In the end we depend on people to validate what we use, and just having the source available is not in and of itself validation.

    As for the rest of the your comments, you simply don't know what you are talking about, but you would if you had actually read the PDF I linked. First off, rewriting the bootloader via JTAG is not an option on a lot of SoC's and embedded devices once they have had some of their internal fuses blown. From the PDF:

    "When an iOS device is turned on, its application processor immediately executes code from read-only memory known as the Boot ROM. This immutable code is laid down during chip fabrication, and is implicitly trusted. The Boot ROM code contains the Apple Root CA public key, which is used to verify that the Low-Level Bootloader (LLB) is signed by Apple before allowing it to load."

    So the stuff in flash might be rewritable, but it won't be executed unless it is signed. Reading the raw flash is also completely useless, because all data written to it is AES encrypted via a DMA engine in the SoC that uses various different keys, but all of them are tied to or derived from values fused into the processor and not readable via software or JTAG (they are routed directly to the DMA block and never exposed). That means the brute force needs to be attempted on the SoC in that particular iPhone, or you need to drastically increase the search space. A suitably advanced attacker code probably also obtain the SoC keys by decapping the chip, dying it, and looking at the fuses with a scanning electron microscope, but I generally don't worry about an attacker with sorts of resources; they would probably just beat my PIN out of me...

  • Re:How ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @08:34AM (#43701435) Homepage

    Jailbreak, inject a new encryption key?

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @08:39AM (#43701449) Journal

    Is it a user's password or is it Apple's? Is there a back door in the algorithm? Is it an inherently weak algorihm, but the police don't know what it is so they can't launch an attack?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @11:36AM (#43702169)

    Apple can't "undo" encryption. But a lockscreen pin code is 4 digits long. Guess how many tries they on average and as a maximum in order to brute-force it?

    Reduce that average time, because some passcodes are used more often than others. (0000,9999,1234, numbers that spell out various 4 letter words)

    After 6 attempts, you have to wait a minute before trying again. At some point there will be a complete lockout, but even that can be reset via iTunes.

    So brute-forcing is by no means impossible. But it will take time and, realistically, automation. Hence why law enforcement have to wait once they've issued Apple with a warrant.

    Those who are Android fans should bear in mind that Google will also retrieve data from Android devices if the Police issue them with a warrant.

    The smartphone of choice for those people who need to protect their phone data from the Police is still the Blackberry.

  • by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Sunday May 12, 2013 @01:00PM (#43702645)

    Is it a user's password or is it Apple's? Is there a back door in the algorithm? Is it an inherently weak algorihm, but the police don't know what it is so they can't launch an attack?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Apparently you encrypt an iOS device when you enable the pass code option. The default pass code is numerical and is only 4 digits, which is very weak. You can activate a 'pass phrase' option that gives more security but the pass phrase should be at least 12 characters long. An 8 char password can, for example apparently be cracked (brute forced presumably) in under 2 hours. Since the iPhone defaults to a 4 digit numerical code I don't suppose cracking 98% of these devices will be terribly hard. However, as always, it appeals far more to the Apple haters here to jump to the conclusion that iOS devices phone home to Apple and send them your encryption keys and pass phrases in clear-text. I am not so sure about that myself, I know of a criminal case where a FileVault image was sent to Apple for decryption but they returned after a while saying that their people had failed to crack it.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser