The news was released yesterday that the FBI has managed to access the data on the San Bernardino gunman’s iphone. If you haven’t been following, there has basically been a fairly public struggle between the FBI and Apple in the news because the FBI has been requesting Apple’s help in unlocking an encrypted phone. The electronics giant refused on the grounds that the government cannot be trusted with such a tool and cannot be expected to limit their use of it to just judicially approved devices. So, to keep millions of iPhone users safe from prying eyes around the world, Apple has stood their ground.
According to news reports, this whole issue might have been avoided if the FBI had handled the phone properly and not locked themselves out of it to begin with. Apparently, their incompetence is to blame for this fiasco. I would like to touch on this point from the perspective of a data recovery engineer. The most basic of first steps when trying to perform a recovery, let alone a forensic recovery, is to secure the device and image it in its entirety. In fact, it will have probably been imaged multiple times to begin with so that their agents can easily work with a perfect copy of the phone without risking compromise to the source device.
We have seen how quickly the FBI is able to deploy its resources, search through vast amounts of data and locate their suspects. In recent memory, the Boston Marathon bombers were located within hours of the act and cornered shortly thereafter. That level of speed and effectiveness would not be possible without a very skilled and coordinated organization. So I don’t believe for a second that their data specialists are technologically impaired and would have shot themselves in the foot by locking themselves out of the device in the first place. I don’t appreciate why the FBI would have made such a public attempt at calling for Apple’s help either. They must know how the public feels about data privacy after whistleblowers like Snowden have shared the truth about mass surveillance.
All this to say that this looks like theatre. I would take everything I hear from these organizations with a grain or two of salt. As time goes on, we discover more and more of the governments technological advancements. They seem well thought out and placed years before anyone even suspected they existed. What was the point of this debate and how did they access the phone in the end? Who knows for sure? I am convinced that none of this was done by accident so until we discover the motives behind this very public dispute, I would withhold judgement.