Po­lice to lose loop­hole to en­ter iPhones

Ap­ple will shut door that lets author­i­ties hack into de­vices

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Jack Nicas

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Ap­ple has long po­si­tioned the iPhone as a se­cure de­vice that only its owner can open. That has led to bat­tles with law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who want to get in­for­ma­tion off them, in­clud­ing a wellpub­li­cized show­down with the FBI in 2016 after Ap­ple re­fused to help open the locked iPhone of a mass shooter.

The FBI even­tu­ally paid a third party to get into the phone, cir­cum­vent­ing the need for Ap­ple’s help. Since then, law en­force­ment agen­cies across the coun­try have in­creas­ingly em­ployed that strat­egy to get into locked iPhones they hope will hold the key to crack­ing cases.

But now Ap­ple is clos­ing the tech­no­log­i­cal loop­hole that let author­i­ties hack into iPhones, an­ger­ing po­lice and other of­fi­cials and reignit­ing a de­bate over whether the govern­ment has a right to get into the per­sonal de­vices that are at the cen­ter of mod­ern life.

Ap­ple said it was plan­ning an iPhone soft­ware up­date that would ef­fec­tively dis­able the phone’s charg­ing and data port — the open­ing where users plug in head­phones, power ca­bles and adapters — an hour after the phone is locked. To trans­fer data to or from the iPhone us­ing the port, a per­son would first need to en­ter the phone’s pass­word.

News of Ap­ple’s planned soft­ware up­date has be­gun spread­ing through se­cu­rity blogs and law en­force­ment cir­cles — and many in in­ves­ti­ga­tory agen­cies are in­fu­ri­ated.

But pri­vacy ad­vo­cates said Ap­ple would be right to fix a se­cu­rity flaw that has be­come eas­ier and cheaper to ex­ploit.

“This is a re­ally big vul­ner­a­bil­ity in Ap­ple’s phones,” said Matthew Green, a pro­fes­sor of cryp­tog­ra­phy at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. A Grayshift de­vice sit­ting on a desk at a po­lice sta­tion, he said, “could very eas­ily leak out into the world.”

En­cryp­tion scram­bles data to make it un­read­able un­til ac­cessed with a spe­cial key, of­ten a pass­word. That frus­trated po­lice and prose­cu­tors who could not pull data from smart­phones, even with a war­rant.

The fric­tion came into public view after the FBI could not ac­cess the iPhone of a shooter who killed 14 peo­ple in San Bernardino, Calif., in late 2015.

The two sides fought in court for a month. Then the FBI abruptly an­nounced it had found an undis­closed group to hack into the phone.

El­iz­a­beth D. Herman / New York Times

An iPhone user takes a photo in New York. Ap­ple is clos­ing the tech­no­log­i­cal loop­hole that al­lows author­i­ties to hack into iPhones.

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