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The FBI has lots of options for cracking iPhones without Apple’s help

Published Mar 3rd, 2016 6:50PM EST
FBI Vs Apple iPhone Unlocking

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The FBI would like us to believe that unless Apple helps it break into the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, it will miss out on a bunch of intelligence that could prevent future terrorist attacks. Many security researchers, however, have questioned whether the FBI really needs Apple’s help to unlock this one device and Apple itself has questioned whether the FBI has really exhausted all its options for opening the phone.

Wired this week talked to some more security researchers who talked about even more alternatives for the FBI to pursue that don’t involve forcing Apple to create a special version of iOS that can be used to hack into its own phones.

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First, Wired points out that there are plenty of third-party solutions for unlocking iOS devices. There are plenty of forensics companies that have developed proprietary software that can bypass the iPhone’s passcode security protections to help government agencies extract data. One such company is called Cellebrite and it claims to have “a unique unlock capability” that can “unlock… Apple devices running iOS 8.x in a forensically sound manner and without any hardware intervention or risk of device wipe.”

This particular software wouldn’t work on the San Bernardino shooter’s phone because it has been updated to iOS 9 but it could certainly help with other iOS devices.

Wired also explains that the FBI could get the iPhone 5c to connect to a Stingray-like rogue cellular network as it’s booting up, which could give the agency the ability to control the device before it even gets to the unlock screen. This would likely mean seeking the help of the NSA, which has shown itself capable of breaking into all kinds of supposedly secure communications over the years. The FBI has claimed that the NSA doesn’t have such capabilities but many in the hacker community find this hard to believe.

At any rate, Wired’s full piece on the FBI’s options for cracking iPhones without Apple’s help is interesting and can be found here.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.

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