Forbes has uncovered a search warrant that strongly indicated that federal agents already have tools that can successfully access data on Apple’s latest iPhone models.
So, why is the FBI pushing so hard for Apple to help unlock the two iPhones used by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the Saudi Air Force cadet that shot and killed three and injured eight others in an attack at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. back in December?
The Forbes report says FBI investigators in Ohio recently used the GrayKey hardware box to unlock an iPhone 11 Pro Max belonging to Baris Ali Koch, who was accused of helping his convicted brother flee the country by providing him with his own ID documents and lying to the police. Koch has entered a plea agreement and is currently awaiting sentencing.
It has been confirmed that Koch’s iPhone was locked using a passcode when the FBI got their hands on the device and that his device passcode was never revealed to law enforcement, nor was Koch forced to use Face ID to unlock the device.
The search warrant in question specifically mentions that GrayKey was used to allow ‘forensic analysis” of the iPhone. GrayKey is a “gray box” that has previously been used by law enforcement to crack the passcode on iPhones. While exact details of how GrayKey works are not available, it is known that the device uses security exploits to access information on a locked iPhone and that Apple continues to work to fix such exploits.
A GrayKey brochure, previously released by Forbes, shows that GrayKey works to unlock older devices as well, and the two iPhones used by the Pensacola shooter are an iPhone 5 and an iPhone 7. This reveal suggests the FBI should be capable of unlocking the iPhones on their own.
If I were a conspiracy-minded individual, I would suggest that the Justice Department and other government agencies are looking to use situations such as this as leverage to eventually force Apple and other tech firms to provide backdoors into their devices and software for use by law enforcement in cases such as this. This would be a trampling of our freedoms.
As Apple and other firms have stated, such a backdoor would eventually fall into the hands of the bad guys, allowing them to access victims’ devices and their information.
Apple appears to be gearing up for another legal battle, similar to the one it faced in 2016 during the San Bernardino shooter case, indicating it will fight any attempts to force them to create backdoors to its devices and encrypted software like its Messages and FaceTime apps.