Have you heard about Israel-based Cellebrite? Maybe you have. Or maybe you are hearing (or reading) about it for the first time. If you own an iPhone, you should know that Cellebrite knows how to hack iPhones running iOS 5 to iOS 11. The US law enforcement agencies love the Israeli mobile forensics firm. According to Thomas Fox-Brewster of Forbes, Cellebrite claims to be capable of cracking iPhones running even the latest iOS 11.
The cyber-forensics firm has multiple big-ticket contracts with the US law enforcement agencies. Cellebrite’s marketing materials intended for law enforcement agencies brag about its “advanced unlocking and extraction services.” These services are available for iPhones and iPads running iOS 5 to iOS 11. Citing an unnamed source in police forensics, Forbes reports that Cellebrite recently found a way to crack the iPhone 8.
If the company can unlock the iPhone 8, there is no reason to believe that it can’t access the iPhone X. The iPhone X and iPhone 8 have similar security features. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security was able to break into an iPhone X, which runs the latest iOS 11, to extract data using Cellebrite’s technology. The iPhone X in question belonged to a suspect in an arms-trafficking case.
There were even speculations that Cellebrite was the firm that unlocked the San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone 5C for the FBI. But later reports suggested that the FBI had hired another Israeli firm to do the job. The US law enforcement agencies have criticized Apple for not giving them access to the iPhones of crime suspects to assist with investigations. Apple has said that giving federal agencies a backdoor would threaten the privacy of its customers.
Federal authorities at all levels of the government use Cellebrite’s surveillance gear. In fact, its smartphone data extraction tools are among the most favorite of police departments. The company earned $2 million on a single contract from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reports Forbes. It has many contracts with the agency. Its client list includes the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, the State Department, and the Transportation Security Administration.
As an iPhone user, the best thing you can do is to update your device to the latest version of iOS 11. Keeping up with software updates will ensure that you have the latest security fixes in place. There is a possibility that Apple might have fixed the bugs in iOS 11 that Cellebrite exploits to access the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Since December, the Cupertino company has rolled out many software updates for iPhones, the latest of them being the iOS 11.2.6.
Apple is consistently working to fix the bugs and security loopholes in its devices to keep ahead of firms like Cellebrite that are always looking for new flaws. In iOS 11, the tech giant started requiring the passcode for your iPhone to establish trust between the iPhone and your computer. Apple also allows users to quickly disable the biometric authentication mechanism by pressing the sleep/wake or side button five times in quick succession.
Firms like Cellebrite are always working to find new bugs in iOS. Instead of making the bugs public or notifying Apple, they sell their services to law enforcement agencies and other entities that can afford to pay them a giant pile of cash for their services. To keep its techniques and exploits secret, Cellebrite requires the federal agencies to send the locked iPhones or iPads to its labs for data extraction.