Apple to undercut popular law-enforcement tool for cracking iPhones

Apple to undercut popular law-enforcement tool for cracking iPhones

Apple is reportedly changing the default settings on iPhones to close a loophole which can be used to access locked phones via the charging and data port.

However, Apple denied the changes were created to thwart USA law enforcement. Companies including Cellebrite and Grayshift sell the devices, which plug into the Lightning port. Provided that the cops have physical access to a device, the $15,000 tool enables authorities to get their way inside, given a week or so of passcode guessing attempts. The company went to court in 2016 over its refusal to break into the iPhone of a gunman who, along with his wife, killed 14 people and injured 22 others in San Bernardino, Calif., in December 2015.

"We're constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves and intrusions into their personal data", Apple spokesman, Fred Sainz, said in an email quoted by the New York Times. Now they will be unable to run code on the devices after the hour is up.

However, the exploit used by law enforcement and hackers may soon be largely thwarted by the Cupertino giant. The data on the device is encrypted and can not be pulled off without cooperation from Apple or the phone's owner - or possibly by using a corpse's fingerprint. "This is a really big vulnerability in Apple's phones", said Matthew D. Green, a professor of cryptography at Johns Hopkins University.

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Law enforcement can now "crack" security measures using a piece of hardware that generates sequences of numbers to unlock smartphones so they can access messages and potential evidence without needing a PIN. Grayshift did not respond to requests for comment.

In the first 10 months of 2017, the Manhattan district attorney's office said it had recovered and obtained warrants or consent to search 702 locked smartphones, two-thirds of which were iPhones. The FBI claims it has at least hundreds of electronics devices connected to investigations that it can't access due to encryption.

Apple and most private security experts argue that government contractors and others can usually find means of cracking devices.

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