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This is why you should really encrypt your iPhone

Updated Dec 23rd, 2016 10:39PM EST

Since it’s encrypted with your password or fingerprint, an iPhone is useless to anyone looking to force their way into the data stored on it. But is that really so? Not quite.

Depending on iPhone model and iOS version it’s running, an iPhone may be more or less prone to hacking. If it’s not encrypted, then sophisticated software can obtain everything stored on a device, including deleted data. And a new report reveals the extensive amount of information an iPhone can give out when hacked the right way.

Cellebrite is a well-known Israeli security firm that’s an expert in hacking smartphones including Apple’s flagship product. If that name rings a bell, that’s because it was thrown around during the San Bernardino iPhone standoff between Apple and the FBI as the company that could crack the handset. Cellebrite (apparently) did not help the FBI, but it still has the capabilities of cracking the iPhone.

Now, ZDNet has inspected leaked files that showcase the power of Cellebrite’s software. ZDNet received earlier this year a series of “large, encrypted files purportedly belonging to a US police department as a result of a leak at a law firm,” which synchronized its backup systems over the internet without a password.

Included in the leak was a series of phone dumps created by the police using Cellebrite equipment. Apparently, US police spent millions on this technology exactly because it produces results far beyond simply accessing the information that’s currently stored on the phone.

The company says it can download almost everything from almost any device in a matter of seconds. It then produces a report that details messages, phone calls, voicemails, images, location, timestamps, and other data from the device.

ZDNet posted parts of such a report obtained after cracking an iPhone 5 running iOS 8 that was not protected by a passcode, and therefore unencrypted. The data even includes information that was deleted and an activity analytics features that tells you how many actions have taken place on the device, such as making calls or sending texts.

This goes to show why it’s important to password-protect your iPhone. Cellebrite says it can’t hack passcode on the iPhone 4s or later. iOS 8 was the first iOS release to come with password encryption. Starting with the iPhone 5s, Apple also included a secure enclave co-processor in the phone to make phone-hacking even harder, if not impossible.

Head over to ZDNet to see images illustrating the treasure trove of data siphoned off the iPhone’s memory.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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