When Apple launched its newest smartphone, there was praise for the security features of iPhone X. The company had built in all sorts of security measures designed not only to better protect customers’ data, but also to make it more difficult for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access it. Now that protection is gone: Cellebrite, a data forensics company based in Israel, is advertising that it can overcome the iPhone X locks.
- The Israeli company Cellebrite is advertising that it can also crack the latest iPhone model X.
- So Cellebrite has presumably found a security hole in Apple’s operating system.
- They could also be exploited by hackers.
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The American magazine Forbes first reported on this innovation. Among other things, it refers to Cellebrite‘s website. It says that the company offers special unlocking services for the latest Apple smartphones and tablets that run the operating systems iOS 5 to 11 – iPhone X works with iOS 11.
The Galaxy and Galaxy note models from Samsung as well as other Android devices from Huawei, LG or Motorola could also crack the company. This means that Cellebrite can overcome or disable the function with which users protect their devices: Pin, pattern or passcode. However, the company does not specify which version of iOS 11 is meant, the latest being iOS 11.2.6.
The German police can also be helped by Cellebrite
For Apple, Cellebrite’s supposed success is a problem
Because no matter how the company unlocks the iPhones, it can only use security holes it finds in the Apple operating system. And what Cellebrite finds is also likely to be discovered by hackers.
But all this is not only technically remarkable. If, for example, the German police seize a smartphone, its owner is not obliged to name a PIN or password. But beyond the iPhone 4, investigators are technically unable to read the devices even without access. This is a major obstacle to the investigation of criminal offences, as mobile devices in particular hold a wealth of data on contacts, chats and other digital signs of life. Most recently, the Freiburg police had Cellebrite help them read out Hussein K.’s iPhone 6s – K. is accused of raping and murdering a 19-year-old student. And the data from his cell phone refuted his statement about the course of the crime.
In the USA the legal situation and problem are similar
There, too, prosecutors, even FBI and Secret Service, lack the knowledge to technically break up iPhones. This became apparent after the assassination run in San Bernadino, California, in which two assassins killed a total of 14 people and injured 21 others on December 2, 2015. At the time, the FBI had tried to oblige Apple by court order to unlock an assassin’s iPhone 5c using software. Apple refused that the risk of abuse was too great. The federal authority was helped by an external service provider, and it is still unclear who is doing it.
It is not without problems that a private company supports public authorities – against payment, which in the Freiburg case amounted to 3,000 euros. After a rampage with many deaths or murders, it may be proportionate to crack a smartphone even against the will of its owner. Cellebrite, for example, assures that the Advanced Unlocking Service is only offered to investigating authorities. They can then read the unlocked smart devices themselves or have them extracted by Cellebrite. How strictly such interventions are regulated by law, however, depends on the respective rule of law – Cellebrite is active worldwide.
The company, founded in 2007, is based in Petach Tikwa, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Approximately 15,000 of its customers are law enforcement officers or military personnel. The company never officially confirms the investigations in which it helped the authorities.
Despite the secrecy, modesty is not Cellebrite’s thing
“Committed to “its mission to make the world a safer place,” the company will “take a leading role” in establishing a global standard for sharing digital forensic information. After all, numerous countries and authorities need to be able to work together seamlessly on technical issues such as terrorism and illegal trade. Cellebrite has offices in São Paulo, London, Washington, D.C., and Munich. The company has sold more than 60,000 licenses to forensic experts from 150 countries, which represents a market share of 40 percent.