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FBI Should Try To Unlock iPhone Without Apple's Help, Lawmaker Says ( 254

itwbennett writes: Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and former car-alarm entrepreneur, has suggested that the FBI try unlocking mass shooter Syed Rizwan Farook by copying the hard drive and running password attempts until they find the correct password. Bruce Sewell, Apple's senior vice president and general counsel, said during a congressional hearing that, although the company doesn't know the condition of the shooter's iPhone, Issa's approach may work.
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FBI Should Try To Unlock iPhone Without Apple's Help, Lawmaker Says

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  • Seems like... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:15AM (#51621871)
    Someone is confusing the iPhone with the iPod Classic.
  • by wkwilley2 ( 4278669 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:17AM (#51621883)

    This guy's so far behind the times, he thinks an Iphone has a hard drive in it.

    • by theCzechGuy ( 1888010 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:20AM (#51621907)
      He's still ahead of FBI.
      • by Znork ( 31774 )

        Are they actually serious? I assumed this was the way that it was always done; for as long as I can remember it's always been pointed out that self-destruct traps are essentially pointless as no serious attacker would be so grossly incompetent that they'd try to break into the original.

        For things like rubber hose protection you'd use plausible deniability material instead where the 'wrong' password reveals something somewhat embarrassing but fairly innocent, so they basically can't tell if there's anything

        • by ImprovOmega ( 744717 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:44AM (#51622099)
          The iPhone's flash drive is encrypted. The key is securely stored. If you guess the lock code incorrectly 10 times then it's not the hard drive that's erased, it's the key that is irrevocably destroyed. At that point it doesn't matter if you have a bunch of copies of the disk, you have a bunch of garbage and the only key in the universe was just wiped out.
          • This got me thinking. If you were to load the flash drive into a VM with rollback capabilities, it could be conceivably possible to hack the phone at near real time. Just rollback the image after each failed attempt until you have a success. Might not be as fast as hammering it with a brute force attack (minus delays) like their asking, but as long as the rollback could occur in a short enough period of time, you'd avoid the protections Apple put in place. Just a thought.
            • You cannot do this. The reason is because the key doesn't exist anywhere where it's readable -- and, even if it is, if you've shut the phone off at any point it removes one part of said key until the pin is re-entered. (Remember that part where you reboot your iPhone and it requires your pin before the finger print reader will work? This is why; the key isn't even in memory yet so there's no way to use the other authentication mechanism to authorize the use of the key to unlock the rest of the phone.)
              • I'm aware of that. Whose to say that the secure enclave can't be incorporated into the VM solution so that the group key and device key is made available to the simulated environment? From that point forward, the passcode / rollback technique should work fine. I don't recall there being a direct coorelation between the secure enclave and the software cycle outside of the crypto. That shouldn't be affected by a rollback (barring that doesn't cross OS versions that is).
                • There's no way to get the key out of the physical secure enclave and into the VM's secure enclave. If there was, you wouldn't need the VM, since you'd have the key.

        • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:50AM (#51622143)

          Are they actually serious? I assumed this was the way that it was always done; for as long as I can remember it's always been pointed out that self-destruct traps are essentially pointless as no serious attacker would be so grossly incompetent that they'd try to break into the original.

          The difference is that on iPhones, Apple has managed to design the system in such a way that breaking into the original is the only practical choice. I mean, they can make a copy, but that means they have to copy the code hard-wired into the encryption chip, not just the data in the flash. To copy that chip, they have to very carefully physically disassemble it with acid and lasers, and then examine the circuits with an electron microscope.

          And if they care that damn much then that's exactly what they should do, not force Apple to create a tool to allow the FBI subvert everybody else's security at-will.

          • by Xenna ( 37238 )

            "not force Apple to create a tool to allow the FBI subvert everybody else's security at-will."

            If I understand correctly they want Apple to use their signing key to 'update' the phone's software with a version that doesn't delete the encryption key after 20 attempts.

            How does that make other iphones less secure?

            • Now the feds have a signed image they can load onto any iPhone and crack it without even talking to a judge.

              • Not quite. The FBI probably wouldn't be allowed to retain a copy of this signed image, which would stay with Apple. (I'm sure that the NSA and the Chinese Ministry of State Security would manage to obtain a copy, though...)

                The problem is that once it exists, courts would start compelling its use. Remember, this is the 13th time that law enforcement agencies have tried to compel Apple to break into a phone.

                Anti-terrorism tools have this way of being used against-non-terrorists. How long before someone tries

            • The idea is telling a government "no" so no precedent is set. This is important as recent history shows that the FBI, NSA, TSA, etc. don't give a flying fuck about legality when it comes to their actions, and you know once they have that precedent set they will proceed with blanket surveillance, "for security." They've been regarding 1984 as an instruction manual rather than a warning.... and The People have been likewise regarding "Idiocracy" as an instruction manual rather than a warning.

        • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:56AM (#51622195) Journal

          Well, the trick (as I understand it) is that the phone uses the CPU's internal UID as part of the AES-256 key, ensuring that all cracking attempts must be done on that phone. There's no way to read the UID out of the CPU without extreme measures.

    • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:32AM (#51622007) Homepage

      I'll give the benefit of the doubt that he's using the word hard drive interchangeably with storage. Now, if he actually thought he could pull the platters apart vs pulling data off with a cable or a manual flash chip migration to a breadboard, then yes, he's a fucking moron.

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        then yes, he would be a fucking moron.


      • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger@gm a i l . c om> on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:41AM (#51622079)

        He called it a hard-drive, not a hard-disk. Honestly, we're splitting hairs about shit literally no one that does not frequent technology blogs gives a crap about. This is especially true because the HDD/SSD distinction has no bearing on the merits of his suggestion.

        • I disagree. It's a pretty concrete example that he has no idea what he's talking about. It's handy to know when someone has their incompetence bit set so we can skip the rest of their argument.

          • by halivar ( 535827 )

            Except the rest of his suggestion still holds, so in this case your stupid-bit-check yields too many false positives to be of any actual use.

        • I frequent technology blogs and I literally do not give a crap about it.
      • And now thanks to Apple & Android everyone seems to think Ram and Storage are the same :|
        • You must be new here. I remember back in the 90s hearing people saying "My computer says it is out of memory but I have XX free MB on the hard drive". Then there was my personal favorite where they would call refer to the case as the CPU or hard drive.
    • Most of us realize he's speaking of the Hynix NAND flash chip.

      Someone with domain knowledge, please correct me:

      My understanding is that the NAND/Flash is protected by strong encryption and is not easily hackable. The PIN unlocks the key for the NAND device, and if the PIN is incorrect 10 times, the key is deleted (not the NAND contents).
  • Approach may work (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Well duh the approach may work, which is one of the reasons the All Writs Act shouldn't apply (it is only supposed to be used when Apple's help is necessary, not 'necessary for how we feel like doing it'). But the goal of the FBI is not, and has never been, to actually get into the phone. The FBI's goal all along has been to use this as ammunition to press Congress for mandated backdoors and/or more funding for their 'cybercrime' division.

    You can bet your ass the NSA already HAS a copy and is either activel

  • by lazarus ( 2879 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:19AM (#51621897) Homepage Journal

    “I can tell you from the Department of Justice perspective, if that drive is encrypted, you’re done,” Ovie Carroll, director of the cyber-crime lab at the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section in the Department of Justice, said during his keynote address at the DFRWS computer forensics conference in Washington, D.C., last Monday. “When conducting criminal investigations, if you pull the power on a drive that is whole-disk encrypted you have lost any chance of recovering that data.”

    From: The iPhone Has Passed a Key Security Threshold []

    I'm sure a politician knows more about crypto than MIT or the DoJ.

  • try unlocking mass shooter Syed Rizwan Farook

    Good luck unlocking a dead man.

    • try unlocking mass shooter Syed Rizwan Farook

      Good luck unlocking a dead man.

      You'd think they would have preserved his fingers...

  • because the password the user typed can't be long enough to be secure from brute force.

    The phone is only "secure" if you can depend on the OS to wipe the phone after 5 bad attempts.

    If you can get into the phone's internal flash, it's game over.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @11:44AM (#51622103)

    The answer is easy. They are not interested in the contents of the terrorist's phone as much as they want a magic key that will unlock anyone's iPhone anywhere. The NSA already has all the metadata from this phone recorded anyway, so the whole alarmist search for the phone's contents is a front for the government's overweening desire to pry into everyone's life.

    • by mackil ( 668039 )

      The answer is easy. They are not interested in the contents of the terrorist's phone as much as they want a magic key that will unlock anyone's iPhone anywhere.

      That is it exactly. This is a high profile case. A major terrorist attack on US soil. What better way to convince the public that there NEEDS to be a backdoor on their devices? They aren't going to let this opportunity go to waste.

      • by clodney ( 778910 )

        That is it exactly. This is a high profile case. A major terrorist attack on US soil.

        I will probably go to hell for saying this, and I mean no disrepect to anyone affected by the San Bernadino shootings, but I quibble with "A major terrorist attack on US soil". This was two people with easily available weapons which can be had at thousands of locations throughout the US. If the "major terrorist attack" bar is set that low, we can never be safe from terrorism, since literally any two people in the country might be terrorists. The 9/11 attacks were definitely a major attack. McVeigh blowi

  • it's a forum full of geeks.

    A forum full of geeks knows it's not that hard to break into an iPhone and this is nothing but a political maneuver.

    I've stated before John McAffee is calling out the obviousness of the situation [], but just like all the other political stuff that creeps across the site the modern Slashdot feels the need to prop up the political agenda despite the obvious answers staring us right in the face.

    • Here is a simple test if you think McAffee is being legit here. Take another iPhone and encrypt it and give it to him and see if he can get the data off of it. Otherwise, talk is cheap, particularly if you know you never will have to make good on it.

      • I'm sure he would do that, propose that to him and the FBI - use an "Escrow" phone of the same model with some target data on it placed and encrypted by a third party - not McAfee or any government agency. If he succeeds then let him at it.

  • ...that the NSA or some other US intelligence agency cannot/has not cracked this phone. What I find more believable is that they have the information and they want to force Apple to crack the phone to protect their methods and knowledge of their access. If they win the get the bonus of sticking it to Apple and get a precedent they can use in other cases.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday March 02, 2016 @12:54PM (#51622559) Journal

    What I fundamentally don't understand is this:

    a) if this is GENUINELY a mattter of national security, the FBI could actually hand the phone to the NSA and get the information in about 30 seconds but for some reason isn't doing so, or
    b) the NSA's upteen-gajillion-dollar "black" budget has pretty much enabled them to record/analyze/store only the utterly banal unencrypted conversations that you could hear just sitting and listening to the guy next to you at the coffeeshop, ie almost entirely wasted on stupid crap.

    I don't see really any other alternative.

    I'd expect, for example, that Russian and Chinese government communications are ROUTINELY of a higher level of encryption than the bloody iPhone you can buy at the mall, and yet the NSA's *job* is to listen in on that stuff and they claim that they're pretty damned good at it?

    • That's because the real situation is:

      c) The FBI wants Apple (and other phone manufacturers) to give them backdoor access. So far, phone manufacturers have resisted this. So the FBI is using this high profile case relating to terrorism (that "scary word" that all too often gives politicians root access to do anything they want) to set a precedent. If it goes according to the FBI's plan, then Apple will be forced to help them unlock this one phone. Then another phone will need to be unlocked and the prece

    • What's going on is the FBI wants a precedent (and a firmware) that they can make apple use in other non-national-security cases. I have the viewpoint that if Apple didn't want to be subject to this, they should have designed the handset so that they couldn't "help" unlock it. The only reason Apple can resist in this case without getting killed in the press is that it is very unlikely that there is valuable data on this handset. (It's the gunman's work phone; he destroyed his personal phone.)
  • We should all be careful what we ask for. As it stands, right now, for the FBI to gain access to a phone in a criminal investigation, they need to get a court order to have Apple, or whomever unlock it. There is at least some check and balance to government intrusion, albeit small. If Apple succeeds in their appeal, then it is likely that the FBI will develop their own tools to access the data in the future, in which case, they will not need a court order any longer.

    If Apple succeeds, this may be a case

  • Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and former car-alarm entrepreneur...

    I'm assuming there's a lot more to him. Because reading sentences like that makes me think California gets too many congressional seats if they give them to people who seem to have so little background in law or government.

  • Find surveilance of the guy unlocking his phone in public. Problem solved!

I use technology in order to hate it more properly. -- Nam June Paik