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Paul Merrell

FBI's secret method of unlocking iPhone may never reach Apple | Reuters - 0 views

  • The FBI may be allowed to withhold information about how it broke into an iPhone belonging to a gunman in the December San Bernardino shootings, despite a U.S. government policy of disclosing technology security flaws discovered by federal agencies. Under the U.S. vulnerabilities equities process, the government is supposed to err in favor of disclosing security issues so companies can devise fixes to protect data. The policy has exceptions for law enforcement, and there are no hard rules about when and how it must be applied.Apple Inc has said it would like the government to share how it cracked the iPhone security protections. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been frustrated by its inability to access data on encrypted phones belonging to criminal suspects, might prefer to keep secret the technique it used to gain access to gunman Syed Farook's phone. The referee is likely to be a White House group formed during the Obama administration to review computer security flaws discovered by federal agencies and decide whether they should be disclosed.
  • Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA and now a lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson, said the review process could be complicated if the cracking method is considered proprietary by the third party that assisted the FBI.Several security researchers have pointed to the Israel-based mobile forensics firm Cellebrite as the likely third party that helped the FBI. That company has repeatedly declined comment.
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    The article is wide of the mark, based on analysis of Executive Branch policy rather than the governing law such as the Freedom of Information Act. And I still find it somewhat ludicrous that a third party with knowledge of the defect could succeed in convincing a court that knowledge of a defect in a company's product is trade-secret proprietary information. "Your honor, my client has discovered a way to break into Mr. Tim Cook's house without a key to his house. That is a valuable trade secret that this Court must keep Mr. Cook from learning." Pow! The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it a crime to access a computer that can connect to the Internet by exploiting a software bug. 
Paul Merrell

Apple could use Brooklyn case to pursue details about FBI iPhone hack: source | Reuters - 0 views

  • If the U.S. Department of Justice asks a New York court to force Apple Inc to unlock an iPhone, the technology company could push the government to reveal how it accessed the phone which belonged to a shooter in San Bernardino, a source familiar with the situation said.The Justice Department will disclose over the next two weeks whether it will continue with its bid to compel Apple to help access an iPhone in a Brooklyn drug case, according to a court filing on Tuesday.The Justice Department this week withdrew a similar request in California, saying it had succeeded in unlocking an iPhone used by one of the shooters involved in a rampage in San Bernardino in December without Apple's help.The legal dispute between the U.S. government and Apple has been a high-profile test of whether law enforcement should have access to encrypted phone data.
  • Apple, supported by most of the technology industry, says anything that helps authorities bypass security features will undermine security for all users. Government officials say that all kinds of criminal investigations will be crippled without access to phone data.Prosecutors have not said whether the San Bernardino technique would work for other seized iPhones, including the one at issue in Brooklyn. Should the Brooklyn case continue, Apple could pursue legal discovery that would potentially force the FBI to reveal what technique it used on the San Bernardino phone, the source said. A Justice Department representative did not have immediate comment.
Paul Merrell

Apple's New Challenge: Learning How the U.S. Cracked Its iPhone - The New York Times - 0 views

  • Now that the United States government has cracked open an iPhone that belonged to a gunman in the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting without Apple’s help, the tech company is under pressure to find and fix the flaw.But unlike other cases where security vulnerabilities have cropped up, Apple may face a higher set of hurdles in ferreting out and repairing the particular iPhone hole that the government hacked.The challenges start with the lack of information about the method that the law enforcement authorities, with the aid of a third party, used to break into the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, an attacker in the San Bernardino rampage last year. Federal officials have refused to identify the person, or organization, who helped crack the device, and have declined to specify the procedure used to open the iPhone. Apple also cannot obtain the device to reverse-engineer the problem, the way it would in other hacking situations.
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    It would make a very interesting Freedom of Information Act case if Apple sued under that Act to force disclosure of the security hole iPhone product defect the FBI exploited. I know of no interpretation of the law enforcement FOIA exemption that would justify FBI disclosure of the information. It might be alleged that the information is the trade secret of the company that disclosed the defect and exploit to the the FBI, but there's a very strong argument that the fact that the information was shared with the FBI waived the trade secrecy claim. And the notion that government is entitled to collect product security defects and exploit them without informing the exploited product's company of the specific defect is extremely weak.  Were I Tim Cook, I would have already told my lawyers to get cracking on filing the FOIA request with the FBI to get the legal ball rolling. 
Paul Merrell

FBI Got Into San Bernardino Killer's iPhone Without Apple's Help - 0 views

  • AFTER MORE THAN a month of insisting that Apple weaken its security to help the FBI break into San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the government has dropped its legal fight. “The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple,” wrote attorneys for the Department of Justice on Monday evening. It’s not yet known if anything valuable was stored on the phone, however. “The FBI is currently reviewing the information on the phone, consistent with standard investigatory procedures,” said Department of Justice spokesperson Melanie Newman in a statement.
Paul Merrell

This Is the Real Reason Apple Is Fighting the FBI | TIME - 0 views

  • The first thing to understand about Apple’s latest fight with the FBI—over a court order to help unlock the deceased San Bernardino shooter’s phone—is that it has very little to do with the San Bernardino shooter’s phone. It’s not even, really, the latest round of the Crypto Wars—the long running debate about how law enforcement and intelligence agencies can adapt to the growing ubiquity of uncrackable encryption tools. Rather, it’s a fight over the future of high-tech surveillance, the trust infrastructure undergirding the global software ecosystem, and how far technology companies and software developers can be conscripted as unwilling suppliers of hacking tools for governments. It’s also the public face of a conflict that will undoubtedly be continued in secret—and is likely already well underway.
  • Considered in isolation, the request seems fairly benign: If it were merely a question of whether to unlock a single device—even one unlikely to contain much essential evidence—there would probably be little enough harm in complying. The reason Apple CEO Tim Cook has pledged to fight a court’s order to assist the bureau is that he understands the danger of the underlying legal precedent the FBI is seeking to establish. Four important pieces of context are necessary to see the trouble with the Apple order.
Paul Merrell

Cameron Calls June 23 EU Referendum as Cabinet Fractures - Bloomberg Business - 0 views

  • In a secret meeting convened by the White House around Thanksgiving, senior national security officials ordered agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the marquee product of one of America’s most valuable companies, according to two people familiar with the decision.The approach was formalized in a confidential National Security Council “decision memo,” tasking government agencies with developing encryption workarounds, estimating additional budgets and identifying laws that may need to be changed to counter what FBI Director James Comey calls the “going dark” problem: investigators being unable to access the contents of encrypted data stored on mobile devices or traveling across the Internet. Details of the memo reveal that, in private, the government was honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.
  • On Tuesday, the public got its first glimpse of what those efforts may look like when a federal judge ordered Apple to create a special tool for the FBI to bypass security protections on an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the shooters in the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has vowed to fight the order, calling it a “chilling” demand that Apple “hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.” The order was not a direct outcome of the memo but is in line with the broader government strategy.White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice have the Obama administration’s “full” support in the matter. The government is “not asking Apple to redesign its product or to create a new backdoor to their products,” but rather are seeking entry “to this one device,” he said.
Paul Merrell

Upgrade Your iPhone Passcode to Defeat the FBI's Backdoor Strategy - 0 views

  • It’s true that ordering Apple to develop the backdoor will fundamentally undermine iPhone security, as Cook and other digital security advocates have argued. But it’s possible for individual iPhone users to protect themselves from government snooping by setting strong passcodes on their phones — passcodes the FBI would not be able to unlock even if it gets its iPhone backdoor. The technical details of how the iPhone encrypts data, and how the FBI might circumvent this protection, are complex and convoluted, and are being thoroughly explored elsewhere on the internet. What I’m going to focus on here is how ordinary iPhone users can protect themselves. The short version: If you’re worried about governments trying to access your phone, set your iPhone up with a random, 11-digit numeric passcode. What follows is an explanation of why that will protect you and how to actually do it.
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