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Government Privacy Politics Technology

FBI Says It Can't Release iPhone Hacking Tool Because It Might Still Be Useful (zdnet.com) 70

Justice Dept. officials say that details of a hacking tool used to access a terrorist's iPhone should not be released because it may still be "useful" to federal investigators. From a report: The government is fighting a case against three news organizations, including the Associated Press, which are fighting to release details of the hacking tool that FBI agents used to unlock a passcode-protected phone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Details of the hacking tool have remained classified, not least because the Justice Dept. believes the tool may could still be used by the FBI in similar cases. "Disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security as it would allow hostile entities to discover the current intelligence gathering methods used, as well as the capabilities and limitations of these methods," said David Hardy, section chief of the FBI's records management division, in a court filing released late Monday.
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FBI Says It Can't Release iPhone Hacking Tool Because It Might Still Be Useful

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  • Not can't. They most certainly can.
    WON'T

    Bad grammar reduces a story's credibility.
  • by Kunedog ( 1033226 )
    You can run this code to see if your Apple machine is compromised by Big Brother:

    #import <Cocoa/Cocoa.h>

    int main(int argc, const char * argv[]) {

    NSDecimalNumber *oneish =
    [NSDecimalNumber decimalNumberWithString:@"1.1111111111111111111"];

    NSInteger two = 3 - [oneish intValue];
    NSInteger othertwo = 3 - [oneish integerValue];

    NSLog(@"2 + 2 = %ld", two + othertwo);

    return 0;

    }

  • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2017 @11:07AM (#54036663) Homepage
    I wonder if this is part of the "adult conversation" about encryption [theguardian.com] that FBI director James Comey mentioned last year that he was preparing to have this year. Also when ever mentioning that fucking iPhone it should also be pointed out that nothing of value [npr.org] was found on it. This way it becomes clear that encryption wasn't something that hampered the case in any way so they can't trot out that old saw to try and make their case against the public having access to strong encryption [washingtonpost.com].
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The fact that something happened (or didn't happen) in this particular case doesn't invalidate their point, since their point doesn't depend on finding something useful in every single instance. There may be other facts or issues that do invalidate their point, but not this one.

  • it would allow hostile entities to discover the current intelligence gathering methods used

    news flash: that six months of PR Hell after the San Bernadino shooting? that was broadcast across the world. they already know damn well to avoid the iPhone.
    the question is, just how long will you keep this exploit to yourself, in the hopes that nobody else knows it, only to randomly find out its been used against you.

    • by Kkloe ( 2751395 )
      i think they know about it and it is a risk they are willing to take, so it is not so much of a news flash
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Although a third-party company, said to be made up of professional hackers, created the hacking tool that was used to break the passcode lock on the iPhone 5c, the company's name has not been revealed

    If the FBI is the licensee of this software, then maybe they can't release it because they don't actually own the code? Also, releasing details about the tool may violate trade secrets of the company which developed it so that may be another factor preventing release.

    • NOPE and NOPE. This dodge is what the company that makes the "Stingray" tries. Put it into the contract that a police department cannot reveal that they use the "Stingray". Then when the judge/defending attorneys ask about methods the Police state they are contractually bound not to reveal them.

      The general method can be discussed without revealing details. AKA we purchased hacking tool "X" to perform the mission, details are contractually limited. Then the judge can make a ruling as to the validity of s

  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2017 @11:17AM (#54036749)

    To me, there is definitely solid reason to classify intelligence sources and methods. However, I think that we have to continue to resist the blurring of lines between foreign intelligence and law enforcement. Certainly law enforcement gathers intelligence (really, they gather information) as part of the investigative process. Our standard for evidence should allow for two possible choices on the part of the government:

    • 1. The operation or activity in which the classified source/method was employed was a foreign intelligence concern. In such cases, classification should be allowed to prevent disclosure because the intelligence apparatus will undoubtedly strive to exploit it for as long as possible. This brings with it all the legal restrictions regarding employment against a US person (yes, that part of the system has problems that need to be fixed, but that is a different issue).
    • 2. The operation or activity in which the source/method was employed was a law enforcement concern. In such cases, the evidence should only be legally considered admissible if the source/method was disclosed (with key exceptions for the identity of human sources; for example, their disclosure may be only to the judge hearing the case, etc.). Think of it as the evidence's chain of custody is broken without the disclosure of the source/method.

    Foreign intelligence is used to make strategic, operational, and tactical military decisions as well as national policy decisions, while information gathered in the course of a law enforcement investigation could be used to support criminal prosecution.

    This way the spooks and feds get to argue to higher authority (probably the AG, DNI, and National Security Council) which is more important: continued use for foreign intelligence or disclosure to support criminal prosecution. That way the decision makers get to earn their keep and everything stays on the up and up.

    • by flink ( 18449 )

      Agree with everything you said except this:

      (with key exceptions for the identity of human sources; for example, their disclosure may be only to the judge hearing the case, etc.).

      This denies the defendant's right to face their accuser and prevents the defense from cross examining. There are very limited exceptions to this, such as dying declarations, but they should be few and far between, and event then the witness's identity isn't concealed.

      But yeah, absolutely, if the method of acquiring evidence can't

      • (with key exceptions for the identity of human sources; for example, their disclosure may be only to the judge hearing the case, etc.).

        This denies the defendant's right to face their accuser and prevents the defense from cross examining. There are very limited exceptions to this, such as dying declarations, but they should be few and far between, and event then the witness's identity isn't concealed.

        Yeah, I realize I left a key piece of that. I was referring to certain human sources, something which would have to be severely limited and done with careful oversight. I was thinking of instances like people whose relationship to the case could result in their life being threatened if their identity is revealed. I know that there is witness protection, but I assume that is not the appropriate solution in every case. I was just trying to make room for the possibility. A real legal expert would need to

  • It's about trust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sgrover ( 1167171 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2017 @11:17AM (#54036753) Homepage
    If they reveal the tool, and it is revealed it is faulty/suspect in anyway, then the information they "recovered" from the phone(s) all become untrustworthy. That does not support the verse the authorities are trying to play out to the general public. So instead of being proactive and helpful, we get innuendo, and "trust me" type comments, with no hope of verification/validation by the public.
    • Well it was already disclosed that nothing of value [npr.org] was found on the San Bernardino iPhone so it doesn't matter at this point anyway for that case. As you point out if the tool is used in other cases and there is some juicy bit of evidence found any flaw in the tool will be used to discredit it. The longer that is put off the better chance to get convictions based off of evidence produced by the tool.
      • I don't think you understand how this works... There will never be any useful information found, or at the very least never any information that's presented as evidence. That way the government still gets the information, without ever having to disclose how.
        • Unfortunately I do understand and realize that what most likely will happen is that any evidence collected wont be used in court or will be used in parallel construction to get what they want. This year there is going to be another push from the likes of the FBI, CIA, etc. to get the laws changed on encryption just like they have been doing for the past couple of years. With the media circus that is Trump they might actually succeed in getting what they want. Here is what congress knows about encryption [house.gov] and
    • It will probably get leaked by concern citizen, just like the rest. Of course what could be next are the tools that the CIA uses to KEEP secrets in general. That could get interesting. what is also interesting, is we don't hear about this happening in Russia or China. At least not in our mainstream news.
  • Maybe wikileaks will reveal it for them.
  • by Macdude ( 23507 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2017 @12:12PM (#54037199)

    If the use of the tool and the workings of the tool can't be examined in court, then any evidence provided by the tool or any evidence found because of any information provided by the tool can't be trusted in court. "Trust us" isn't good enough in a court of law.

  • There's a better one on WikiLeaks.
  • by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2017 @01:29PM (#54037933)
    The FBI, et al. would rather exist in a world that is very dangerous and they alone possess the tools to (sometimes, maybe) protect us, than live in a world that is a little safer and no one has those tools. This is in the interests of the FBI and not necessarily in the interests of the society it is tasked to protect.
  • Was it ever disclosed what was discovered on the phone? The whole fuss in the first place was the extreme importance of getting access to the contents of the phone. At the time I was dubious that they would find anything of any great value on the phone and therefore forcing Apple to break the security of their products was not justified. So now they have that data what value was it? Has it saved the lives of thousands or do we now know what he ate for lunch on Wednesday?
  • ... but we do not want to tell you and this way we do not have to explain ourselves.

  • For the thousands of iPhones in their evidence locker it will still work and also on all the old/non-updated phones out there, publishing the tool won't change that.

    But them telling us that old phones are vulnerable, might boost Apple sales.

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