Spy firms push iPhone-hacking tools to trace coronavirus, raising privacy concerns

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Systems like that from Cellebrite are now being pushed to track COVID-19, but have serious privacy concerns.

Multiple companies that created software to hack into mobile phones now offer versions of their products to trace the spread of COVID-19, according to a published report Tuesday.

Very different from contact-tracing technologies that focus on finding the virus but at the same time protect privacy, these new systems would not need a patient’s consent to gain entry into the device.

iPhone 11 held off FBI hacking efforts for two months

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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.

New York City uses Israeli tools to crack into locked iPhones

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GrayKey can bypass iPhone security
iPhone security is no match for Cellebrite.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Law enforcement agents in New York City have been cracking into locked iPhones since January 2018, according to a new report.

Agencies are using a tool called Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) that’s developed by Israeli firm Cellebrite. It is said to have cost at least $200,000 and allows a full file system extraction.

iPhone hacking tools sell for as little as $100 on eBay

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One of Cellebrite's hacking devices.
Photo: Tryc2/ebay

The Cellebrite hacking tool used by law enforcers for pulling data off locked iPhones costs $6,000 new. However, used units now show up on eBay for as little as $100.

That’s a big discount from the full price. And it seems that Cellebrite, a security firm based in Israel, isn’t too happy about the situation — with very good reason.

How much did FBI’s iPhone hack cost taxpayers?

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Hacking the iPhone 5c probably cost the FBI more than $1 million.
Hacking the iPhone 5c probably cost the FBI more than $1 million.
Photo: Apple

The FBI may soon be forced to reveal how much money it spent to hack into the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone 5c last year.

FBI Director James Comey told the public that his agency paid “more than I will make in the remainder of this job” to unlock the device after Apple refused to help. Now a group of news organizations have asked a judge to force the government to show exactly how much it cost taxpayers.

Hacker spills code developed to crack San Bernardino iPhone

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Proposed bill could hold tech giants more accountable for child exploitation
Code may have helped crack iPhone 5c.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

A hacker has released a cache of files allegedly stolen from Israeli mobile phone forensics company Cellebrite — including the hack it reportedly developed for the FBI to help break into older model iPhones.

In an interview with Motherboard, the hacker responsible said that the release was a demonstration that, “when you create these tools, they will make it out. History should make that clear.”

Cellebrite probably wasn’t the brains behind FBI’s iPhone hack

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iPhone hack
Israeli tech firm may not have been the ones who hacked San Bernardino iPhone.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The FBI signed a $15,000 contract with Israeli-tech firm Cellebrite to crack the iPhone 5c at the heart of the San Bernardino shooting investigation. However, according to a new report, Cellebrite may not have been the ones who successfully hacked the smartphone, after all.

Instead, the Feds reportedly broke into the iPhone 5c with the aid of a group of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau a previously unknown iOS flaw — letting them get around the iPhone’s four-digit pincode feature, without accidentally erasing the iPhone’s data in the process.

Texting behind the wheel? N.Y. cops may have the tech to find out

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N.Y. cops may soon be able to instantly check if you were using your phone while driving.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Cellebrite, the Israeli tech firm which helped the FBI hack the iPhone 5c at the heart of the San Bernardino shooting case, is reportedly working on a “textalyzer” device that will allow authorities to find out whether a person as unlawfully driving while using their smartphone.

The device would initially be used in New York, where proposed legislation may let law enforcement officials access certain cellphone information — without a warrant — to find out whether drivers are distracted at the wheel.