back to article FYI: There's a cop tool called GrayKey that force unlocks iPhones. Let's hope it doesn't fall into the wrong hands!

A secretive unlocking tool offered to cops and government agents has some computer security bods worried over its privacy implications. Known as GrayKey, the box is reportedly being marketed as a way to unlock iPhones without needing the key code. The hardware is reportedly offered in two forms: an internet-connected model …

  1. Tromos

    If the police have got one...

    ...it has already fallen into the wrong hands.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: If the police have got one...

      Such cynicism. Don't you know that your local police is here to serve and protect?

      </sarcasm>

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If the police have got one...

        But of course, comrade.

        Dominika, vot is this sarcasm?

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: If the police have got one...

        Of course everyone knows they serve and protect. Some of us just happen to have a problem with the specifics of whom.

    2. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

      Re: If the police have got one...

      The system works PROBABLY by overwriting one of the Apple CPU's (which is mostly ARM-based) instruction caches at the point where the Password entry counter is kept which indicates when to lock the phone. The on-chip operation is similar to the following:

      Enter_Password;

      If Password IS_INCORRECT then

      Increment( Password_Entry_Count );

      if Password_Entry_Count IS_GREATER_THAN FOUR then

      Lock_Phone_Permanently

      else

      Allow_Entry_Into_Phone;

      ---

      You just have to keep setting the hard-coded password-enrty count BACK to ZERO so that

      ALL combinations of the entry code (9999 combination for many Android and older Apple phones)

      can be tried until the phone opens.

      Enter_Password;

      JUMP_TO BYPASS_MEMORY_LOCATION <<< Insert jump code here

      If Password IS_INCORRECT then

      Increment( Password_Entry_Count );

      if Password_Entry_Count IS_GREATER_THAN FOUR then <<< or reset hard-coded password count

      Lock_Phone_Permanently

      else

      BYPASS_MEMORY_LOCATION: Allow_Entry_Into_Phone;

      For FINGERPRINT and FACE-RECOGNITION-based phones, you just have to find the memory location where the HASH-CODE value for the Fingerprint and/or Faceprint digital signature is kept and copy that hash-code and present it to the phone at the memory location where it is kept in cache.

      The phone interprets the copied data as the real code and unlocks the code even IF the hash code is encrypted. Just make sure you send back your own or a specially re-encrypted hash code value BACK to the faceprint or fingerprint decrypt and recognition algorithm.

      You can also electrically SHORT the YES/NO circuit pathway to the phones bootstrap operation where the phone thinks the face recognition, faceprint or unlock code has ALREADY been entered and validated simply by overwriting the memory location WHERE the accept/reject security credentials branch occurs with an appropriate JUMP CODE that simply BYPASSES the entire verification process.

      The microcode where this occurs, is loaded from the encrypted BIOS portion of Apple phones and put into a secured cache area which can be OVERWRITTEN with the appropriate JUMP instructions If the phone tries to verify the loaded instructions via a hash code comparison with a hard-coded digital signature or other credential, just overwrite the comparison process with a bypass JUMP code and continue onto the rest of the bootstrap process.

      NOT THAT HARD TO DO !!! Even with the rather secure bootstrap process of Apple Phones which use MULTIPLE verifications during boot-up.

      1. Colin Miller

        Re: If the police have got one...

        IIRC, the fingerprint data is stored on a PIC that is dedicated to the reader. The main CPU asks the PIC if the fingerprint is correct. If it is, then the PIC releases an asymmetric key to the main CPU. This then unlocks the flash drive.

        1. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

          Re: If the police have got one...

          if you have physical access to the phone then you can short specific pins on the PIC and get it to release your asymmetric key under various scenarios to figure out HOW the key is created so you can recreate your own new key for presentation to the CPU.

          I highly doubt that Apple or Google would keep a full key on a PIC but rather create a NEW key based upon parts of the obtained biometric signature AND from internal hardware serial numbers/signatures on an as-needed basis. You just want the ALGORITHM and THEN you can recreate your own keys for ANY type of phone you are trying to dissect or decrypt.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not much chance of that

    '"What happens to the device once it is released back to its owner? Is it still jailbroken in a non-obvious way?," Reed asks.'

    Like people ever get their stuff back after it's stolen, er seized, by the police...

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: not much chance of that

      "Like people ever get their stuff back after it's stolen, er seized, by the police..."

      I'm sure your high priced lawyer will be able to get it returned.

      Wait, you are rich enough to afford a high priced lawyer aren't you? Because otherwise you're poor and there's probably a law against that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: not much chance of that

      To be fair police in the netherlands managed to get back two stolen laptops for us, they were recycled the moment we got them back.

  3. veti Silver badge

    Physical security has always been the most important layer

    That hasn't changed.

    If someone you don't trust has unrestricted access to your phone, for two hours continuously...

    ... it's over. Forget it.

    Historically this has always been true. It seems there was a brief period when we were all anxious to pretend it no longer applied, but that was only ever an illusion.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Unhappy

      Re: Physical security has always been the most important layer

      "Historically this has always been true. It seems there was a brief period when we were all anxious to pretend it no longer applied, but that was only ever an illusion."

      I'll say! Back in my day we had to tattoo our secret stuff inside our butt cracks. Then the bulls got wise, and it was "Spread 'em!" every time!

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: tattoo our secret stuff inside our butt cracks

        So it was a bit like 2FA, or the nuclear launch key thing, in that you needed two people to retrieve the information.

        1. TonyJ Silver badge

          Re: tattoo our secret stuff inside our butt cracks

          "...So it was a bit like 2FA, or the nuclear launch key thing, in that you needed two people to retrieve the information...."

          Unless you're an MBA toting PHB...we all know they can stick their heads up there...

  4. as2003

    I'm assuming Apple will get their hands on one of these devices, figure out what zero-day it is exploiting and issue a patch?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I fear for this company's business model. One patch and their device becomes completely redundant.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        The company has already taken the money from buyers, who will have a useless device when the exploit is patched in a new version of iOS.

        If they can get hold of a new 0 day they can sell law enforcement an update (or whole new device) to work with that new version of iOS and get paid again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

        Seems like they have their business plan pretty well figured out...at least until Apple fixes whatever underlying problem is allowing them to apparently guess passwords at wire rate!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Maybe they have a series of 0-days in the queue

          For their subscription service model.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's as much a company as a gold rush.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Holmes

      @as2003

      Apple will have one asap, via any means. And if this black box is built around one exploit, it might be worthless after the next iOS update?

      1. PirateKing

        if the devices can be upgrade so when apple updates and patches things and new zero day exploits are found and can be added to the device then its a back and forth

    3. nijam

      > I'm assuming Apple will get their hands on one of these devices, figure out what zero-day it is exploiting and issue a patch?

      I'm assuming Apple will get their hands on one of these devices, figure out what zero-day it is exploiting, and deny it's possible to exploit it.

    4. low_resolution_foxxes

      You are assuming it wasn't provided unofficially by Apple to satisfy the US security industry.

      You will probably be able to tell from the PR reaction when somebody points this out to Apple, whether they try particularly hard to fix it.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...when the device, a 4x4x2-inch box, is stolen from police..."

    Chief of Police replies, "No, it cannot be stolen. We keep it locked up in our secure vault, right beside the illegal drugs and illicit cash that we have seized. Here, let me show you. It's right in here beside... HEY! Who stole all the drugs and cash, again? And where's that $30,000 gadget?"

    People that sell stolen used iPhones would pay $100,000 for the gadget. But those people that make and sell brand new iPhones might pay a million.

    Gone In 60 femtoseconds. There will be a loud clap sound as the air rushes in to refill the 4x4x2-inch box shaped hard vacuum where the gadget used to be.

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: "...when the device, a 4x4x2-inch box, is stolen from police..."

      Yeah, that's a "when" not an "if". I recall when all the security cameras where stolen from a major cities central police station.

      1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

        Re: "...when the device, a 4x4x2-inch box, is stolen from police..."

        Stole all the cameras? That takes cajones.

        My local precinct in Baltimore had a potted pot plant, I guess for training and familiarization? Some crackpot stole the potted pot.

  6. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Spy vs Spy vs Spy ad infinitum

    It's almost a game it seems but it's not. It's real and it can have real bad implications. I can understand that the cops would want one. But should they actually be allowed to have one? Seems that the IT industry just keeps chasing it's tail here with exploits, patches, etc. And then with this, due process falls by the wayside.

    The old saying "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" is not (maybe it never was) true. In this case, there's a lot to fear even if you haven't done anything wrong. Once the phone has been broken, anything can be planted on it.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "But should they actually be allowed to have one?"

      If you don't want mandated backdoors, I think this is the lesser evil.

      Of course, there are risks - it's inevitable. But it's still better than allowing someone to claim the need of unrestricted surveillance.

      Anyway, I would ditch any electronic device (and any related account) after it has been seized for any reason.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: "But should they actually be allowed to have one?"

        If you don't want mandated backdoors, I think this is the lesser evil.

        Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

          Face it: police has a mandate to stop crime, and it needs to find evidences. With a valid warrant, they can open doors, safes, etc. etc. They can tap phones, install cams and microphones. It's a matter of fact - even democratic constitutions have provisions to allow for evidence gatherings as long as they abide to the law. Even privacy is not an unlimited right - or say bye bye to any kind of justice.

          Smartphones are no different. If there is a technical way to "open" something legally in search of evidences, they will do - and yes, someone will do a business of it - they always did. This business could be less or more ethical - and may need to be regulated, and yes, there's a risk they could end in the wrong hands.

          It's like weapon, it can be a gun in the hands of a police officer saving you, or an AR-15 in the hands of a murderer shooting at you, if there is no sensible regulations and controls.

          Still it's better that there are expensive, difficult and limited ways to achieve it - because otherwise there will be a mounting pressure for backdoors, and it could be successful.

          It's not hard to understand, but of course the anarchist conspirationists that permeates the Internet see any kind of law enforcement as some kind of evil - until their are the victims.

          1. Guus Leeuw

            Re: "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

            Dear Sir,

            The problem in not so much that there is such a device. The problem is that the police has access to it.

            Now, I agree, that they need to be able to do their job, but even with the limited information they have today, they fail to do most of their job. Increasing the amount of information isn't going to make that better.

            Also, if the police really thinks that this person is the perpertrator, it is indeed quite handy for them to be able to plant evidence on a device once they have unlocked it.

            I do not know what the best solution for society is, however I do feel that unfeathered access to people's belongings is not something that the police or indeed the government should have.

            Best regards,

            Guus

            1. LDS Silver badge

              "The problem is that the police has access to it."

              So, you don't trust police. Buy an AR-15 and hide in the woods. then.

              I understand there are a lot of morons in the police too. There are also good people who pursue true criminals respecting the law.

              Would you like a world without law enforcement? Where only the powerful ones can enforce their own rules? And do you believe they will respect your rights to privacy, property, and life?

              It's this anarchism that is destroying the foundation of democracy, and sends people like Trump to the top spots - and eventually you'll get exactly what you feared.

              "unfeathered access to people's belonging" is against the law. "Planting evidences" too. And if they don't abide to the law, they can plant evidences outside your devices as well.

              It can happen? Sure. Wearing a tinfoil hat won't save you - act to ensure democracy stands and it's not turned into a parody of it.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                @LDS "Would you like a world without law enforcement? "

                Another false dichotomy - most aren't arguing for that, what they want is a world where the police, all of them, are held to account for their abuse of power, not just let off the hook due to the colour of the victim's skin or the power of the police union, or which state official the Chief of ̶S̶t̶a̶s̶i̶ Police is dining with tonight.

                Currently, there are only two kinds of cops - bad cops and those who cover for bad cops.

                ̶

                1. WatAWorld

                  Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                  "Currently, there are only two kinds of cops - bad cops and those who cover for bad cops."

                  Criminals, accomplices, and accessories after the fact?

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                There seems to be a mass of NonTechLoonyLeftyMaxists on this site lately.

                Stop Bashing All Cops and Realize AntiFa and BLM only care about Soros not you.

                You guys should just go get a job already.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                  > You guys should just go get a job already.

                  And you should realise you are writing prose, not bloody VisualBasic. What is it with the capitalisation?

                2. HieronymusBloggs Silver badge

                  Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                  "NonTechLoonyLeftyMaxists"

                  Would those be fanatical followers of the famous Portuguese fado singer, or did you have some other Max in mind?

              3. Teiwaz Silver badge

                Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                So, you don't trust police. Buy an AR-15 and hide in the woods. then. *

                Well, if that's not a sure-fire way of getting their attention, I don't know what is.

                * Might work in the US as long as the authorities think you are just a lone nut hermit and not some Cult, but try it in one the tame forest parks in the UK. You'd end up 'Brazilianed' even if it were a plastic AR-15.

              4. JohnFen Silver badge

                Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                "Would you like a world without law enforcement?"

                No. I would like a world where the justice system actually acted with, and promoted, justice.

              5. WatAWorld

                Re: "The problem is that the police has access to it."

                "Would you like a world without law enforcement? Where only the powerful ones can enforce their own rules? And do you believe they will respect your rights to privacy, property, and life?"

                Professional policing was invented by Sir Robert Peel in the 1820s. Civilization existed before then. Police forces are an optional extra, not something essential for the existence of civilization.

                https://www.thebalance.com/the-history-of-modern-policing-974587

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

            With great power comes great responsibility.

            Law "enforcement" have proven repeatedly that power corrupts absolutely.

            1. Sam Therapy

              Re: "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

              In support of your post, I cite South Yorkshire Police.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

                Sir ! In support of /your/ post, I cite Stoke Newington Police Station ...

                https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/4885/Metropolitan+Police%3A+a+long+history+of+corruption%2C+racism+and+criminality

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Colin_Roach

                not enough to convince you ?

                https://duckduckgo.com/?q=corruption+and+criminality+at+stoke+newington+police+station+london&t=ffab&atb=v98-1_b&ia=web

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

            Smartphones are no different. If there is a technical way to "open" something legally in search of evidences, they will do - and yes, someone will do a business of it - they always did. This business could be less or more ethical - and may need to be regulated, and yes, there's a risk they could end in the wrong hands.

            Still it's better that there are expensive, difficult and limited ways to achieve it - because otherwise there will be a mounting pressure for backdoors, and it could be successful.

            ====================================================================

            The compromise of personal devices

            1. provides a level of ubiquitous surveillance of both the owner and all interactions with other people or information unmatched, or even unapproximated, at any previous time

            2. can often be automated at low cost as the technology matures, allowing use without economic or practical limits, and thus permitting the targeting of entire groups or populations.

            3. produces information that cannot be secured. If rich governments of technically advanced nations cannot protect the information needed for top secret vetting, the design of their nuclear weapons, and the technologies of their not yet in service 5th generation jet fighters, (and those are only the failures we know about) why would anyone think they will successfully protect databases containing every useful piece of personal information about everything and everyone

            4. these techniques will be redeveloped, copied, stolen, rented, and otherwise compromised by anyone with an ever decreasing amount of skills, cash, ruthlessness, or other forms of leverage or technical competence.

            The only hope for individual freedoms and personal rights is a determined and continuing effort to completely prevent certain types of surveillance and monitoring, without any designed or tolerated exploits or 'doors' of any type.

          4. Harry Stottle

            Re: "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

            The key phrase in your contribution is:

            "It's like weapon, it can be a gun in the hands of a police officer saving you, or an AR-15 in the hands of a murderer shooting at you, if there is no sensible regulations and controls."

            What you seem to be unaware of is that there ARE no SENSIBLE regulations and controls on the police (or any other agents of the state who might use technology like this on your phone/laptop/desktop etc)

            We'd all be a lot more comfortable with State Surveillance if we knew (and could prove) that those doing the surveillance were themselves under the strictest form of surveillance. That's why I keep rabbiting on about Accountability Theatre.

          5. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: "Thanks for that excellent example of 'False dichotomy'."

            "of course the anarchist conspirationists that permeates the Internet see any kind of law enforcement as some kind of evil - until their are the victims."

            I was with you until this sentence -- this completely misrepresents the resistance to police surveillance.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: "But should they actually be allowed to have one?"

        "If you don't want mandated backdoors, I think this is the lesser evil."

        Genuinely puzzled by that remark. The possibility of products like this (inevitably falling into the wrong hands) is one of the main reasons *why* people don't want mandated 0-days backdoors.

      3. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: "But should they actually be allowed to have one?"

        "I would ditch any electronic device (and any related account) after it has been seized for any reason."

        This. Once you've lost control of the device to that extent, it is completely untrustworthy. Also, for those who are truly concerned, don't rely solely on the built-in security measures for your security.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      Re: Spy vs Spy vs Spy ad infinitum

      "It's real and it can have real bad implications."

      Like I keep saying, all those little devil boxes should be crushed.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Lamers ! Who needs that level of security ??

    I'd be more worried about screen breakage.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Lamers ! Who needs that level of security ??

      well, there are a lot of reasons:

      a) fishing expedition by law enforcement - we'll find SOMETHING we can nail you for! [jaywalking as indicated by GPS, for example]

      b) planted evidence. Not that hard, really. A few child pr0n pics in your browser cache, and now you're a sex offender!

      c) "leaking" personal information found on your phone, as a means of coercion or outright blackmail [just plead guilty, or maybe some of those photos will get 'leaked' and you don't want THAT, now do you?]

      Those three reasons ALONE ought to be enough to ALWAYS INSIST on keeping privacy, well, private.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lamers ! Who needs that level of security ??

        > c) "leaking" personal information found on your phone, as a means of coercion or outright blackmail

        Least anyone think that is hypothetical, I happen to follow the news from Catalonia and that is exactly what happens, last time one week ago.

      2. Pier Reviewer

        Re: Lamers ! Who needs that level of security ??

        Why should phones (PCs, tablets etc) be considered different to other physical stores of information?

        You raise an interesting idea. The police can use info to blackmail people. I bet it happens fairly regularly. Should the source of that info matter? How is using photos from a cracked smart phone different from photos in a locked safe?

        If you’re worried about this type of product allowing the police to carry out abuses (and I believe that to be a fair concern) and think that banning it is the solution I’d have to disagree. You don’t solve that problem by stopping them decrypting phones. That’s the kind of solution government ministers come up with (no offence intended). It takes a great deal of effort to solve the root cause. If the police commit abuses now, without access to such tech, banning it isn’t going to change anything. It just gives criminals an obvious place to store their dodgy info. You and I can still be abused by the state, and criminals can impede investigations into their activities. Doesn’t sound like the best place we could be in to me.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    an alternative point of view

    Obviously, this article is posted to grab some attentions to iPhone security, and somewhat promotes users here that these tools can fall into the wrong hand. However looking on the brighter side, it gave Apple something better when those government officers keep getting these tools.

    Apple could use this against the government officers from forcing them to unlock their devices. Apple can basically draw the line for the government that if they want to unlock an iPhone, they are to ask the iPhone unlock providers to do it and not them. It is just like asking a lock picker to unlock the lock, instead of the lock designer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: an alternative point of view

      That depends on how secure they want IOS to be perceived as.

  9. h3nb45h3r

    Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

    Whilst I appreciate privacy is important, security is also, and if this can help stop bad things happening, great.

    And if they get my phone and discover the only dubious thing I do is read El Reg and they obtain all the pictures of my cat I've taken, I wouldn't consider that a bad thing, my cat looks awesome....

    1. sabroni Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

      I think you may be in the wrong place, this is a site for IT professionals.

      "If you've done nothing wrong then you've nothing to hide" doesn't cut it.

      1. caffeine addict Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

        this is a site for IT professionals.

        Professionals? Really? Have you seen some of this lot? And I include myself in that...

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

          Professionals? Really? Have you seen some of this lot? And I include myself in that...

          Aha, so it's you who have been watching me....

          ...not very entertaining am I?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

      "Whilst I appreciate privacy is important, security is also, and if this can help stop bad things happening, great."

      You're reading it wrong. Security is indeed important and this makes bad things happen from a security point of view.

    3. Kane Silver badge

      Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

      "And if they get my phone..."

      Why would they have your phone? You haven't done anything wrong, have you citizen?

      "...and discover the only dubious thing I do is read El Reg...",

      You consider reading El Reg "dubious"? Against what standard do you measure this? I seriously doubt this is the only dubious thing you do. Something to hide, maybe? Come on, you can tell your Big Brother...

      "...and they obtain all the pictures of my cat I've taken, I wouldn't consider that a bad thing, my cat looks awesome...."

      An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. Pics, or it didn't happen.

      1. poohbear

        Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

        "my cat looks awesome...."

        You're not into cats, are you?....

        1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

          "my cat looks awesome...."

          You're not into cats, are you?....

          Yeah, these are his cat pictures.

      2. FlamingDeath Bronze badge

        Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

        "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof."

        The Guys name is Truzzi, lol

    4. DontFeedTheTrolls
      Big Brother

      Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

      And if they get my phone ...

      Who is "they"?

      FBI, MI5, NSA, GCHQ, Security Services, FSB, Police?

      The wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend?

      Identity thief, scammer, extortionist, blackmailer?

      KGB, MOSAD, SMERSH, SPECTRE, HYDRA?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

        > Who is "they"?

        > FBI, MI5, NSA, GCHQ, Security Services, FSB, Police?

        > The wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend?

        > Identity thief, scammer, extortionist, blackmailer?

        > KGB, MOSAD, SMERSH, SPECTRE, HYDRA?

        No, no. It's "they".

    5. NeverMindTheBullocks

      Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

      @h3nb45h3r

      It's not your phone that anyone would be interested in.

      What about journalists working in repressive regimes, human rights activists trying to prosecute those in authority, whistleblowers in authoritarian governments.

      Any of these and more could have their lives and work compromised by those in authority who want to shut them up by getting "evidence" from their phones.

      I doubt the company selling these devices will be particularly fussy about who they sell them to. You may not have much to worry about but many many others will as a result of this.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "repressive regimes"

        Do you believe they won't try to access those data anyway because you just say no? Actually you would just give them an advantage because they will be able to access your data, while hiding theirs.

        Good luck, then, maybe investigating those who killed a journalist or human right activists in your country...

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

        "Any of these and more could have their lives and work compromised by those in authority who want to shut them up by getting "evidence" from their phones."

        Amongst other evidence - bomb aiming coordinates.

        Yes, it's happened.

    6. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

      "privacy is important, security is also"

      There can be no security without privacy.

      "if this can help stop bad things happening"

      It's hard to see how it could. This would be more useful after the bad thing has happened and the cops are trying to figure out who did it.

      " I wouldn't consider that a bad thing"

      Good for you. If it were me, I'd consider it to be a very bad thing!

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Woah! Some much tin foil, so many hats.....

      > And if they get my phone and discover the only dubious thing I do is read El Reg and they obtain all the pictures of my cat I've taken, I wouldn't consider that a bad thing

      The moment "they" get your phone you better start worrying.

      Whether you have something to hide or not is irrelevant. If "they" think you do, you are in the shit. And if "they" don't like you or "they" decide you would make a plausible enough culprit, you're not seeing that cat of yours again.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time to break a passphrase?

    My frirend’s iphone defaulted to a six digit PIN which presumably means a two day break time. I wonder what happens when you set a passphrase instead of a PIN?

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Time to break a passphrase?

      "I wonder what happens when you set a passphrase instead of a PIN?"

      It would depend on the hash. SHA256 would take a very long time.

      iOS apparently limits the total # of failed attempts and/or the retry rate in order to mitigate the less secure PIN method. It's actually OK to do it Apple's way as long as there's no 0-day flaw [which they obviously need to fix, now].

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Time to break a passphrase?

        From the MO it sounds like they've found a way to circumvent the retry limit, and probably only focuses on the 'PIN' variety of password.

        In other words - Snake Oil.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Time to break a passphrase?

          Not entirely.

          You may have a long, strong passphrase.

          Can you guarantee the same about everyone in your vicinity?

          It only takes one compromised device to record a meeting or a conversation, or to reveal both sides of messaging or email or documents... or credentials that can unlock other systems, or decryption keys, or...

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Not necessarily snake oil

            At least not for the examples above like someone wanting to use a phone as a bug.

            In such a case, the greater the variety (PINs versus passwords, Android vs iOS) the better, as you only have to compromise the weakest link. In that big meeting, me sitting there with my iPhone that has always used a password since I bought a 3gs might take a donkey's age to brute force, but that's no problem if the guy next to me was an easier mark.

            The FBI will continue to whine because some phones will be protected by passwords, and they still believe they deserve a backdoor and don't believe they should have to pay third parties for equipment to let them hack (some) phones.

            Of course this is irrelevant for spy agencies, since this requires physical access. If they had physical access they'd take my phone apart, add some tiny little microphone the size of a grain of rice (the iPhone X is packed pretty tight, but there's probably room somewhere) that will record everything around me for a few days and then they can get close enough to me (maybe sit next to me while I'm in a restaurant) to command it to download the contents to them.

  11. Steve Jackson

    ObVioU5

    Selling to law enforcement....

    0-day closed by Apple.

    Rinse, lather, repeat. (Public money being the inference?)

    "THIS COULD FALL INTO THE HANDS OF CRIMINALS!!!!"

    0-day closed by Apple.

    Someone might want their $30,000 investment back....

    ....mine's the bed with the horse's head in it.

    Can't have it both ways. This is a zero-sum argument.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bypass or neutralise the try limit ..

    I wonder if they've got access to the location which stores the try count, and just keep resetting it after each attempt.

    You know, like game hackers used to do *in the 80s*.

    I won't write anymore, as it's clear from the chatter around the water cooler anyone under 45 simply doesn't know how this was done. Especially when you mention memory-mapped I/O ...

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Bypass or neutralise the try limit ..

      More likely they've POKEd a NOP into the JLE operand ??????

    2. TechDrone
      Pint

      Re: Bypass or neutralise the try limit ..

      POKE 34483,195

      If I was a rich man...

      1. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

        Re: Bypass or neutralise the try limit ..

        OK am I correct that is a Commodore Vic-20 or C64 workaround or was this for Apple Basic on the Apple II (I think I still have one stuffed in some closet at my Mom and Dad's place) for bypassing code entry screens on certain games?

  13. 101

    If...

    If I were the manufacturer I would find out how the gizmo works, fix that and then add some code that would make the de-coder burst into flames on the third try. LOL.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: If...

      That's when you need your Trace Buster Buster. (May not be safe for work; contains ridiculous language.)

      But then, of course, they'll show up with a Trace Buster Buster Buster.

  14. elvisimprsntr

    "I've already got one."

    youtu.be/GYcopzJ-T9w?t=41

  15. Richard Parkin

    Looks fake to me

    As title.

  16. Aodhhan Bronze badge

    Okay, why is there shock here?

    A phone isn't a vault located in a military bunker. Phones should be looked at as the last place you keep sensitive information.

    It's long been known, if someone gains physical control to your computer/device, etc... then they own it.

    If not by using some 'secret killing box', then by another method.

    So if you're a criminal conducting incriminating actions via your phone... don't be shocked if law enforcement uses it against you.

    If you keep GPS active along with other 'features' active on your phone, don't be shocked when Google records your every move, puts the information into a database and then sells this information to Equifax; who then loses it when their database is breached. You chose to accept the risk. A phone shouldn't be looked at as being a secure safety deposit box located at Fort Knox.

    You're InfoSec professionals. You're smart enough to look at this from the correct perspective of risk management. Don't get caught up in the emotion of this. Don't let the press or politicians twist your thinking. Keep your perspective true and remember, nothing is hack proof. So the loss or misuse of a box isn't any worse than someone not correctly securing information.

  17. Spacedinvader
    Unhappy

    Bit missing?

    The "El Reg has asked Apple for comment and will update this story should they get back to us" bit...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At a guess

    someone has found a way to trip the code handling the IO from the cable (that proprietary interface no one can review) and it's causing some sort of soft reset which forgets how many tries you've had, or enters some sort of panic mode, where you can directly talk to protected memory.

    It's where I would have started looking.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And who knows what other "features" this software contains

    A rootkit perhaps?

  20. Lord_Beavis
    Pirate

    Here's how that phone call would go

    Wife: Hello?

    Me: Got picked up by the cops. Execute Order 66.

    Order 66 would be getting the sealed envelope from the Emergency Hiding Place with instructions on how to get my username and password for iCloud and how to wipe the phone.

  21. FuzzyTheBear

    Given all this ..

    I read the comments and gave this some thought.. ( some .. not much .. bear brain you know ) .. I am simply amazed that anyone would be stupid enough to keep any important information on a phone. A phone is a phone is a phone. So called smart technology is not smart at all security wise. People trusting such devices for anything important past making a date with Doris are in error. A) easily lost .. B) easily stolen C) can be broken into in various ways D) reveals your location E) Stingray anyone ? F) US Marshall Service with his planes knowing the location of ALL cell phones in the US .. need i go on ? Whatever way you look at it trusting a cell phone for privacy is foolish. Committing crimes using them even more so. Again , a phone is a phone is a phone. I know they're convenient but they can never be trusted.

    There's more security in an encrypted text travelling on a microdot at the back of a stamp than a smartphone on a network.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Given all this ..

      " I am simply amazed that anyone would be stupid enough to keep any important information on a phone."

      In case you haven't noticed, the average crim isn't particularly smart and the smarter ones lawyer up long before the police arrive.

  22. ecofeco Silver badge
    Holmes

    Or is it vaporware?

    It would not be the first time the police have fallen for vaporware.

    Is there solid verification that this is real?

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Or is it vaporware?

      One would hope that they'd insist on a demo. One of the cops will have an iPhone - make them break into his. If they spend money on it without proof or without another law enforcement agency they trust confirming it really works then hopefully the taxpayers find out so they can be rightfully fired.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Iphones Unlocked $50

    Iphones Unlocked $50

    We bought this, going to make good money.

    Visit us https://tinyurl.com/y8am37jz https://tinyurl.com/4poyc6x

    Unlocked and return when finished. You pay shipping.

  24. Claptrap314 Bronze badge

    Defending the innocent

    A couple of commenters here have complained in an assumption that the readers are the ones walking around with sensitive data on their smart phones. I, for one, don't own a smart phone. So I'm not overly concerned about these matters as they affect my person. But my wife? I cannot get her to understand, let alone comply with, the most basic principles of data protection. Nevermind households that don't have anyone in the industry.

  25. WatAWorld

    This is more of a boon to America's enemies than to US police forces.

    As Dale Carnegie says, "If you want to persuade someone, speak to them in terms of their own interests."

    What US officials should be most concerned with is that the device and its techniques are easily available to foreign intelligence agencies for the purposes of spying on and interfering with US corporations, civilians, and political campaigns.

    This is more of a boon to America's enemies than to US police forces.

  26. WatAWorld

    If you want to persuade the powers that be and the general public that this is dangerous

    If you want to persuade the general public that this is dangerous don't do it using some complex argument about the police being a danger to public safety. Most people don't realize that. And most elected officials think they control the police.

    To persuade the powers that be that allowing companies and government agencies to keep vulnerabilities secret is worse for them than the alternative.

    Our insecurity is their insecurity.

    - That our phones and computers can be cracked, Diane Feinstein's phones and computers can be cracked.

    - If our phones and computers can be cracked, then the phones and computers of Republican and Democratic re-election campaign teams can be cracked.

    - If means that the phones and computers of Goldman Sachs, the Koch brothers and George Soros employees can be cracked.

    That our secret police can crack means their secret police can crack.

    Our intelligence agencies can crack means their foreign intelligence agencies can crack.

    Yeah, in Soviet Russia, in China, in the USA, even in Canada the police can kill you on video and generally get away with it. But that doesn't worry those in power since they think they control the police. Those in power would be/should be more worried that allowing these sorts of vulnerabilities to exist personally hurts them, their power and their wealth.

    What GreyKey and Cellebrite are selling is the means for China to steal US trade secrets -- that is what our powers that be will care about.

  27. HelpfulJohn

    The answer to this problem is obvious: don't carry "smart" phones. Indeed, never carry anything outside your home that has any personal data on it whatsoever.

    A very, very dumb mobile phone with a limited directory function is probably safe-ish as that is not really a much greater security risk than any other subset of the generally available Phone Book.

    Carrying a music-player, ebook reader with Project Gutenberg-like titles only or a video player with no Internet link, all for entertainment while travelling, should also be fairly safe. Mostly.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Short fuse

    There's no inherent reason to trust law enforcement simply because they are law enforcement. Trust comes from acting in a way that is consistent with the norms and laws of the society that they operate in.

    On that basis, the (bad/incopolice continually do their best to screw it up (and in doing so, screw it up for everyone, themselves included).

  29. Frozit

    If you have access to the hardware...

    Fundamental theory. Security is built on a "trusted" item. Without that item, you can always break in. And pretty much every computer security item is based on a trust in the hardware. Once you have physical access to the device, the rest is just engineering.

  30. Voidstorm

    If the NSA has a superdooper PC cracker...

    ... It will get into the wrong hands.

    Oh, wait. Wannacry, anyone? Made possible by Eternalblue. Made by the NSA.

    If there's a backdoor, it will get out. Just say "No" to backdoors, mmkay?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The tech community brought this upon themselves

    Apple could have cooperated with law enforcement, unlocking phones after a valid warrant was issued, and only allowing the access in-house to prevent outside parties from learning Apple's secrets. But no, Apple played its childish game and so the genie has left the bottle. Too bad, so sad.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vhat Hav U done Boris

    This is theft of the tech of mother Russia!!

    We have copy right and will be suing these companies in the state of Californian ,

    as soon as we can get a court date.

    Putin

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