IT’S A SHOWDOWN that has the country mesmerized. In court battles brewing across the nation, the FBI is trying to force Apple to help it extract data from iPhones seized in more than a dozen cases.
The government is so intent on forcing Apple’s hand that in each case the Justice Department has invoked the 200-year-old law All Writs Act to do it. But application of the Act requires the government to show that it has no other method of extracting data from the phones. And according to experts who spoke with WIRED, that’s not necessarily the case. They say there are ways the government can extract data on phones without Apple’s help, from using outside contractors to asking its friends at the NSA—ways that it has, in fact, already used in the past. The solutions won’t work for every iPhone the government has collected, and the solution offered for extracting data from the phone in San Bernardino involves some speculation about the NSA’s capabilities. But they do raise questions about whether the government has done everything it can do to collect the data it says it needs.
The Commercial Ways In
According to one expert in the forensic industry who spoke with WIRED on condition of anonymity, there are commercial solutions that could possibly help the government extract data from more than half the iPhones in question and possibly more—the phones are running various versions of operating system ranging from 4.2.1 to 9.0. Many of these capabilities involve defeating security mechanisms put in place by Apple and the phone owners, such as encryption and passcodes.
“Forensic companies have been working on ways to extract evidence from mobile phones for years,” says the expert. “They develop proprietary software and hardware to do that. It is well-known that these solutions exploit vulnerabilities on the device that allow them to perform these extractions.”
The FBI in fact has a sole-source contract with one of them, a mobile forensic firm founded in Israel called Cellebrite. The company offers data-extraction services and tools for iPhones, Android and Windows phones and Blackberries. And according to its web site, this includes extracting data from locked phones that are using any version of operating system up to 8.4.1, the last version of iOS8 that Apple released.
Read the Remainder at Wired