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Cops Around the Country Can Now Unlock iPhones, Records Show

Published: April 12, 2018
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Source: Motherboard

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said that law enforcement agencies are “increasingly unable to access” evidence stored on encrypted devices.

Wray is not telling the whole truth.

Police forces and federal agencies around the country have bought relatively cheap tools to unlock up-to-date iPhones and bypass their encryption, according to a Motherboard investigation based on several caches of internal agency documents, online records, and conversations with law enforcement officials. Many of the documents were obtained by Motherboard using public records requests.

The news highlights the going dark debate, in which law enforcement officials say they cannot access evidence against criminals. But easy access to iPhone hacking tools also hamstrings the FBI’s argument for introducing backdoors into consumer devices so authorities can more readily access their contents.

“It demonstrates that even state and local police do have access to this data in many situations,” Matthew Green, an assistant professor and cryptographer at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, told Motherboard in a Twitter message. “This seems to contradict what the FBI is saying about their inability to access these phones.”

As part of the investigation, Motherboard found:

  • Regional police forces, such as the Maryland State Police and Indiana State Police, are procuring a technology called ‘GrayKey’ which can break into iPhones, including the iPhone X running the latest operating system iOS 11.
  • Local police forces, including Miami-Dade County Police, have also indicated that they may have bought the equipment.
  • Other forces, including the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, have seemingly not bought GrayKey, but have received quotations from the company selling the technology, called Grayshift.
  • Emails show the Secret Service is planning to buy at least half a dozen GrayKey boxes to unlock iPhones.
  • The State Department has already bought the technology, and the Drug Enforcement Administration is interested in doing so.

THE KEY

Grayshift has been shopping its iPhone cracking technology to police forces. The firm, which includes an ex-Apple security engineer on its staff, provided demonstrations to potential customers, according to one email.

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