The FBI has recently successfully unlocked Apple’s latest and theoretically safest iPhone model, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, using a black market/grey market tool, Forbes reported. So why did the FBI ask Apple to unlock the iPhone of the suspect in the Pensacola shooting? The case involved two phones that were said to be older iPhone 5s and iPhone 7 Plus.
GreyKey hacking device (pictured: Malwarebytes, via Apple Insider)
A search warrant obtained by Forbes strongly suggests that the FBI has found a tool to access data on the latest and most secure iPhone models.
Last year, FBI investigators in Ohio used a hacking tool called GrayKey to extract data from Apple’s latest iPhone 11 Pro Max model. The phone belonged to Baris Ali Koch, who is accused of using his identity documents to help his convicted brother flee the United States and lie to police. He has now reached a plea agreement pending sentencing.
Ameer Mabjish, Amer Mabjish, a lawyer for Mr. Koch, confirmed that Mr. Koch’s iPhone 11 Pro Max was locked at the time. Mr. Makish also said he did not know how investigators had obtained the cell phone password. All he knew was that Koch did not provide them with a password, and investigators did not force Koch to unlock his face through face ID.
The search warrant, dated October 16, 2019, also shows that the phone was locked and protected by a password, the strongest indication yet that the FBI had found evidence of a hack, suggesting that the FBI could obtain data on the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Search warrant strongly suggests FBI has cracked iPhone 11 Pro Max
Given that the suspect in the Sakola Naval Base shooting was using older iPhone 5s and iPhone 7 Pluss, it’s unclear why the hacking tool, GrayKey, couldn’t be used in the investigation. According to GrayKey’s brochure, the hack also applies to older iPhones.
Nicholas Weaver, a researcher and lecturer at the Berkeley Institute for International Computer Science, said the FBI’s tough call for Apple’s help amounted to “teasing” even before the latest evidence suggested That GrayKey could crack the latest iPhone.
Weaver said that under Apple’s design philosophy, the company could not provide information if GrayKey or other hacking tools could not open the iPhone. “Basically, Apple’s security principle is that to change security settings, you have to crack the security mechanism. The FBI knows that you can’t change security settings before you crack the security mechanism first, but they still let you change your security settings. “
But the problem is that it’s not just the FBI that’s asking for the iPhone to be unlocked. U.S. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Barr also urged Apple to help. The FBI’s efforts to crack the two iPhones could be complicated by the damage to one of them. A bullet hit the iPhone 7 Plus during police shooting of gunman Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. However, neither Apple nor the US Department of Justice have said how this will affect the iPhone hack.
Apple has long had a policy of not unlocking the iPhone for the police. Apple said it had provided the iCloud data related to the case to the FBI. Apple declined to comment on the FBI’s use of Gray Key. GrayKey is also used by other law enforcement agencies, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. GrayKey is a product of Grayshift, an Atlanta-based company founded by a former Apple security engineer.
The U.S. Department of Justice has yet to comment.