Law Enforcement Agencies Purchase Device to Unlock iPhones


In what some might call a breach of security, law enforcement officials have been investing in a cost-effective device capable of unlocking any iPhone.

According to Digital Trends, the arduous task of getting into a locked iPhone may be a thing of the past for authorities, as a device called GrayKey has hit the markets.

A small grey box with only two lightning cables that look similar to antennae, GrayKey is used by two iPhones simultaneously as one device gathers information about the other in just over two minutes.

Though the locked device is not immediately unlocked upon connection, it is only a short while later that the phone will display a black screen with the passcode and other gleaned information.

The whole process takes roughly between two hours to a few days to complete — a stark contrast to past instances where authorities would have to use third-party vendors such as Cellebrite.

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Though how it goes about unlocking devices is still largely unknown, Cellebrite requires the device to be sent to their facility as well as charging a minimum fee of $5,000 per device — a hefty, if not time-consuming process for authorities who are trying to solve crimes such as the San Bernadino shooter case.

During the investigation of the shooting that left 14 dead, many people decried Apple’s alleged “aiding and abetting a felony” by refusing to generate backdoor access to FBI agents.

The case was ultimately dropped as authorities turned to Cellebrite, an Israeli company that services law enforcement by unlocking iPhones and other devices.

GrayKey — developed by an Atlanta-based company called Grayshift — is thought to usher in a new era in iPhone unlocking technology and is specifically meant for law enforcement officials or other labs.

Do you think GrayKey is a breach of iPhone users' security?

Unencrypted details about the iPhone once it is unlocked are also downloaded to the GrayKey device, where they can be further scrutinized by authorities either on a computer or another resource as a downloaded file.

The options for a limited $13,000 or $15,000 device and even a $30,000 device that requires no internet and is unlimited, are cheap alternatives to companies such as Cellebrite, who charged authorities $900,000 to unlock the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone.

Some sites such as Malwarebytes Labs, warn of the implications it might set up for those with ill-intent.

“What happens if the GrayKey becomes commonplace in law enforcement?” wrote Thomas Reed for Malwarebytes. “The cheaper model isn’t much of a danger if stolen—unless it’s stolen prior to setup.”

Reed states that the unlimited model could be pocketed “fairly easy” and that, once it was off-site, could continue to work for whoever used it, leaving many opportunities for it to be sold on the black market.

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“Most people probably won’t get too excited about a criminal’s phone or data,” he added. “However, let’s keep in mind one of the fundamental principles of the US judicial system: suspects are innocent until proven guilty.

“Should suspects be susceptible to these kinds of searches by law enforcement?”

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ASU grad who loves all things reading and writing.
Becky is an ASU grad who uses her spare time to read, write and play with her dog, Tasha. Her interests include politics, religion, and all things science. Her work has been published with ASU's Normal Noise, Phoenix Sister Cities, and "Dramatica," a university-run publication in Romania.
Bachelor of Arts in English/Creative Writing
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Politics, Science/Tech, Faith, History, Gender Equality