Is­raeli firm can steal phone data in seconds

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

It only takes a few seconds for an em­ployee of one of the world’s lead­ing hack­ing com­pa­nies to take a locked smart­phone and pull the data from it. Is­raeli firm Cellebrite’s tech­nol­ogy pro­vides a glimpse of a world of pos­si­bil­i­ties ac­ces­si­ble to se­cu­rity agen­cies glob­ally that worry pri­vacy ad­vo­cates.

The com­pany has con­tracts in more than 115 coun­tries, many with govern­ments, and it shot to global promi­nence in March when it was re­ported the FBI used its tech­nol­ogy to crack the iPhone of one of the ji­hadist-in­spired killers in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia.

There have since been re­ports that Cellebrite was in fact not in­volved, and the com­pany it­self re­fuses to com­ment. Re­gard­less, it is rec­og­nized as one of the world’s lead­ers in such tech­nol­ogy. It can re­port­edly take a wide range of in­for­ma­tion off de­vices: from the con­tent of text mes­sages to po­ten­tially de­tails of where a per­son was at any given mo­ment.

Even mes­sages deleted years be­fore can be po­ten­tially re­trieved. “There are many de­vices that we are the only player in the world that can un­lock,” Leeor Ben-Peretz, one of the com­pany’s top ex­ec­u­tives, told AFP in English. But pri­vacy and rights ac­tivists worry such pow­er­ful tech­nol­ogy can wind up in the wrong hands, lead­ing to abuses.

‘Cat and mouse’

Cellebrite’s tech­nol­ogy is not on­line hack­ing. It only works when the phone is phys­i­cally con­nected to one of the firm’s de­vices. The com­pany re­cently demon­strated its ca­pa­bil­i­ties for an AFP jour­nal­ist. The pass­word on a phone was dis­abled and newly taken pho­tos ap­peared on a com­puter screen, com­plete with the ex­act lo­ca­tion and time they were taken.

The phone in the de­mon­stra­tion, an LG G4 run on Google’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem, is a model Cellebrite had al­ready cracked, so the ex­trac­tion did not take long. The real chal­lenge, Ben-Peretz agrees, is stay­ing in the lead in a race where phone man­u­fac­tur­ers con­stantly launch new models and up­date soft­ware with ever more com­pli­cated se­cu­rity.

In the firm’s lab they have 15,000 phones-with around 150-200 new models added each month. When a new phone is launched, Ben-Peretz said, their 250-per­son re­search team races against com­peti­tors to find a chink in its ar­mor, a process that can range from a few days to months.

iPhones present a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge be­cause, un­like many firms, Ap­ple de­signs every­thing from the de­vice’s hard­ware to soft­ware, mak­ing its tech­nol­ogy par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult to hack, ex­plained Yong Wang, a pro­fes­sor at Dakota State Univer­sity in the United States.

Ben-Peretz re­mains con­fi­dent his com­pany can crack even the new­est iPhones. “iOS de­vices have strong se­cu­rity mech­a­nisms that give us a chal­lenge, but if any­one can ad­dress this chal­lenge and pro­vide a so­lu­tion to law en­force­ment, it is Cellebrite,” he said, re­fer­ring to Ap­ple’s op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to Ben-Peretz, there is no phone on the mar­ket that is im­pos­si­ble to crack. “Yes it is get­ting harder, it is get­ting more com­plex,” he said. “But we still deliver re­sults and they are re­sults on the latest de­vices and latest op­er­at­ing sys­tems.” —AFP

PE­TAH TIKVA, Is­rael : Leeor Ben-Peretz, the Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent of the Is­raeli firm Cellebrite’s tech­nol­ogy, shows de­vices and ex­plains the tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped by his com­pany on Novem­ber 9, 2016. —AFP

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