iPhone 11 held off FBI hacking efforts for two months

By

The FBI finally hacked an iPhone 11
Even a federal law-enforcement agency took months to bypass iPhone security.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

It reportedly took the FBI two months to bypass the security built in an iPhone 11. This demonstrates how difficult iPhone hacking is for even one of the world’s premier law-enforcement agencies.

On the other hand, through skilled iPhone hacking the FBI was eventually able to get access to the contents of the device, which would seem to cast doubt that law enforcement needs a backdoor into iOS, as US Attorney General Robert Barr requested.

The iPhone 11 in question is owned by Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Parnas was indicted by federal prosecutors for alleged campaign finance violations.

“Parnas declined to provide the password to his devices, which is of course his right, but which required the FBI to spend nearly two months unlocking the iPhone 11,” the FBI said in a note to the judge in this case, according to Bloomberg.

iPhone hacking common among law enforcement

The federal agency reportedly used Cellebrite hacking tool to break into the handset. This is a popular resource for law-enforcement agencies in the US and around the world.

“Our technology is used by thousands of organizations globally to lawfully access and analyze very specific digital data as part of ongoing investigations,” a Cellbrite spokesperson told OneZero. “This aids in unearthing evidence to bring understanding and resolution to cases.”

Similar tools are used in a $10 million iPhone hacking lab run by the district attorney of Manhattan.

All this is necessary because any iPhone locked with a passcode is also encrypted. Even Apple doesn’t have the key. The only way the access the contents of the device is with the passcode.

Even a subpoena can’t force Apple unlock one of its devices because the company doesn’t have this key or passcode. The company can, and does, provide law-enforcement agencies with information taken from iCloud backups, which Apple does have access to.