The Israeli company Cellebrite, a cyber-forensics firm that has a number of big-dollar contracts with the U.S. government, likely found a way to break the security on virtually all iPhone models in the past few months.
The firm has been informing law enforcement agencies that its “advanced unlocking and extraction services” are now available for devices that run iOS 5 to iOS 11.
In addition, according to an American media report, one source involved in police cyber-forensics has said he was told by Cellebrite that the firm can unlock the iPhone 8. The source concluded that the company likely could also do the same to the new iPhone X model, since security features on both phones are very similar.
The report included a warrant from the Department of Homeland Security which claimed that agents were able to break into an iPhone X that was obtained in November from an arms-trafficking suspect. The warrant does not detail how DHS cyber-forensic experts were able to unlock the phone but it does say that the department’s Cellebrite specialist managed a “forensic extraction” in December.
Cellebrite may have been responsible as well for helping the FBI break into the iPhone 5C of Syed Farook, one of the two Islamic extremists who committed a mass shooting act of terrorism in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015. The FBI went to court to order Apple to unlock the phone but the company’s CEO, Tim Cook, refused.
The bureau managed a workaround, though it was never reported who helped agents crack the device’s security.
Cellebrite’s surveillance gear is a hot seller for authorities at all levels of the government—the ACLU called one of the company’s portable phone data extraction tools “a favorite of police departments everywhere.” And as Forbes has pointed out, Cellebrite has struck lucrative deals with a variety of U.S. agencies. For instance, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spent $2 million on just one of Cellebrite’s many contracts. The firm also reportedly partners with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, and the State Department. [source]
Analysis: If true, this Israeli company is likely to get a lot more business — from the U.S. government, for certain, but others as well. Apple’s iPhone security is said to be some of the best in the industry.
This may sound odd given that Cellebrite is a cyber-security and forensics firm, but the real danger here is protecting the technology. Imagine if Cellebrite’s alleged secret security-busting software were stolen and released to the criminal underworld; the economic fallout for Apple would be in the billions of dollars.
And of course, with this kind of technology you always have to worry about government ‘excesses,’ shall we say, in terms of Fourth Amendment privacy violations. What may a fantastic anti-terrorism tool can be a substantial threat to civil liberties.