Apple has filed a lawsuit against NSO Group relating to their installation of Pegasus spyware on Apple users’ devices. Apple wishes to hold NSO Group accountable for their surveillance of users.
Apple has taken the significant step to begin notifying individuals about the threat of state-sponsored attacks on their accounts and devices. Apple is suing NSO Group and its parent company to attempt to hold them accountable for surveillance of Apple users. Their lawsuit, filed November 23, 2021, seeks an injunction to ban NSO Group permanently from using any Apple software, services, or devices. It comes after NSO Group has been shown to have infected Apple users’ devices with Pegasus spyware.
Apple’s Actions to Notify Impacted Users
Apple threat notifications are intended to provide warnings to individuals who may have been targeted by state-sponsored attacks. They use two different methods to notify the user through their account. When logging into appleid.apple.com, there will be a Threat Notification displayed at the top of the page. Additionally, the user will receive an email and an iMessage notification to the email addresses and phone numbers associated with their Apple ID account. The notifications offer advice on the steps that they can take to improve their security and protect their devices and personal information.
In a press release, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, said, “State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That needs to change.”
NSO Group Allegations
The legal complaint from Apple reveals new information about the activities of NSO Group. It highlights FORCEDENTRY, which exploited a former vulnerability to gain access to Apple devices and install the NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus. The lawsuit from Apple intends to both ban NSO Group from having access to Apple products and services and to seek action on the violation of federal and state law by the NSO Group.
WhatsApp Similar Litigation
In 2019, WhatsApp also brought a court case aiming to hold NSO Group accountable for distributing their spyware through the app. A group of other tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, lent their official support to WhatsApp to encourage the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to hold NSO Group accountable.
Apple responds by funding Cyber Threat Research
Apple has also announced a $10 million contribution in support of cyber-surveillance researchers and advocates. Any damages from the lawsuit have also been pledged to organizations in these areas. Apple is also supporting Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto that originally discovered the exploit that NSO Group used, by providing technical, threat intelligence, and engineering assistance at no charge. They will also provide assistance to other organizations doing work in the same field, where appropriate.
Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto said, “Mercenary spyware firms like NSO Group have facilitated some of the world’s worst human rights abuses and acts of transnational repression, while enriching themselves and their investors. I applaud Apple for holding them accountable for their abuses, and hope in doing so Apple will help to bring justice to all who have been victimized by NSO Group’s reckless behavior.”In response to the complaint, NSO Group replied, “Thousands of lives were saved around the world thanks to NSO Group’s technologies used by its customers”. They said, “Pedophiles and terrorists can freely operate in technological safe-havens, and we provide governments with the lawful tools to fight [them]. NSO group will continue to advocate for the truth.”
Enigma Forensics offers step by step advice on what to do if you cell phone has been lost or stolen.
Enigma Forensics has recently received many calls regarding lost or stolen cell phones. So we put together 7 easy steps on what to do. You may have been involved in a crime where someone stole your phone or you could have lost or misplaced your phone. Either way, you know the feeling, it’s a sinking panic in the pit of your stomach. There’s no doubt it can be devastating! Here are some easy steps you can take to avoid this monumental headache. First a foremost DON’T PANIC. Take a deep breath and think logically through these steps.
Step 1 – You’ve discovered your cell phone has been lost or stolen – ask a friend or someone close to use their phone to call your number. If that doesn’t work try to locate your phone on another device that is connected to your Mobile App. Then text your phone. If it’s lost someone might be a good samaritan and want to return the phone. If you were involved in a crime contact the police department and file a report.
Step 2 – Check out your Mobile App or your phone’s native “find my phone” feature. If you have other devices in your home, log on, and try to use the locator.
Step 3 – Call your cell phone provider to inform them of a lost or stolen phone. They can assist you in what actions you need to take next. If you have insurance on your phone you will be able to replace it with minimal cost.
Step 4 – If you have any banking, or other important financial Apps on your phone contact them immediately to let them know your predicament. Most banks allow you to pause your financial cards while you locate your phone. Notify the credit reporting agencies to put a freeze on new accounts being opened in your name.
Step 5 – Always back up your cell phone. We know, this is easier said than done! You can make it easy on yourself if you schedule a calendar date and set a reminder.
Step 6 – If you lock your phone and rotate your passwords this could help avoid most of the headaches involved.
Step 7 – Have your cell phone carrier revoke your old SIM card to prevent any outside party from texting your contacts from your cell phone or another cell phone they may use with your SIM card.
Finally, keep calm and face each step with determination to resolve the matter.
Social media and cell phone forensics can play an important role in thwarting criminal activity. Check out this conversation between Cyber Forensic Expert Lee Neubecker and Data Diva, Debbie Reynolds. You will be so much smarter afterwards!
Snap Chat, Twitter, Facebook: Social Media and the Importance of Cell Phone Forensics
Lee Neubecker and Debbie Reynolds, the Data Diva, discuss the role of law enforcement in capturing social media posts when trying to thwart the bad guys coordinating a riot or the more recent looting incidents in Chicago. During this difficult time in our nation, what is the role that cell phone forensics should take? Did you know that Apple phones have the ability to automatically shut down when stolen and have a beacon that will detect the location of the phone making it easy for law enforcement to come knocking on the thief’s door? Check out this video to learn more about the role of social media and cell phone forensics.
Transcripts of Video Follows
Lee Neubecker (LN): Hi, it’s Lee Neubecker, and I have Debbie Reynolds back on the show, Debbie thanks for being on remotely.
Debbie Reynolds (DR): Thank you for having me.
LN: So I asked you to come on so that we could talk a little bit about some of the recent lootings that have happened in Chicago and other areas across the country. And what could be happening, as it relates to cell phone forensics and how law enforcement can be using that to get to the bottom of how these coordinated attacks are being planned and who might be involved.
DR: Most of what I know about this is basically what you told me so, why don’t you just sort of share what your experience has been so far in the current environment, and then we can talk from there?
LN: Sure. Well, right now, I know that some of the looters that were apprehended had cell phones on them. We don’t know exactly how the information is being used by law enforcement, but technically, an example of things that could happen could include, doing forensics on the cell phone, identifying Snapchat handles they have communicated with, looking at text messages, looking for Twitter accounts and postings. And potentially, what I saw happening during the last week, at least in one instance, there was a post made to Twitter by a user that made a reference to doing a gig at Urban Outfitters on the West Side, and roughly a few hours after, that post went out on Twitter, referencing Urban Outfitters, Nike’s, Liquor and other things. Around four hours after that, looting that went on at that store, so that handle that posted and anyone else that reacted to that post could certainly have been alerted to the potential for mass looting in a coordinated way via social media.
DR: Yeah, I think even though the police do have capabilities to do that type of tracking and tracing, they they do heat maps of certain things. The problem is that these incidents, if they are coordinated, they happen pretty quickly so it’s sort of hard for them to kind of preempt it. But as you said, always, they have capabilities, right? To do anything with like cell phones that they capture, but they also have capabilities to do things like geofencing about who was in the area at certain time. So, a lot of what they’re doing is not necessarily preemptive or pre-crime is more of, if something is happening or has happened, they can go back and try to backtrack or trace or… If there are people on the scene they can apprehend whoever is there that’s doing whatever and they sort of build it out from there, right?
LN: Yeah, but just the other day, someone was captured and apprehended in… They got caught because they were posting their raid via social media, and they had a live view of them going to bomb, they were threatening to bomb the place and looted, taking cash registers and the stuff was, this someone that was not from Chicago, I think from downstate, somewhere that came in and came in with a goal to create problems and had a past history of that, but the person had the audacity to post it to Facebook, and the FBI just busted them and they’re indicted now.
DR: I don’t know why people share such things on social media. Because yeah, they do track and trace that. But, a lot of the things especially as I saw, it seemed like a lot of stores that have things like mobile phones have been attacked. And as you know those things are pretty easy to trace back. So I don’t know how far people–
LN: Apple had LoJack, in all their phones at the retail store, and so people who took those phones likely those phones likely got located but-
DR: Oh yeah, definately.
LN: I don’t know that that’s happening at the the cheap cell phone stores, the burner phones.
DR: Well, yeah, those are… No, I mean, they probably… If anything, obviously may have serial numbers and stuff like that but, once you… Whether it’s broken, or people change sims or whatever, it’s harder to track that stuff down. But yeah, the Apple phones, yes. They wouldn’t have very much problem. I think as I heard, I read that what Apple had done is for all the phones that were stolen from them, they were able to lock those down. And then it had a screen on there so that you actually couldn’t use it. So, that’s what I heard was happening with Apple.
LN: Yeah, well, they also have the ability to beacon out and send GPS location so-
DR: Oh, absolutely.
LN: People who are buying stolen Apple phones might find someone knocking on their door, law enforcement.
DR: Yeah, it’s probably not a good idea to buy one off the street at this point. So yeah.
LN: Yeah. Well, any thoughts on your concerns if the privacy issues that might relate to mere surveillance on people and tracking social media posts and actually getting in and subpoenaing phone numbers that were taxed to help try to prevent looting from happening?
DR: Well, okay. I guess that’s a couple of different things rolled up into one. So, obviously I’m concerned with mass surveillance, especially if it is capturing information not accurately or targeting people who may not have even been involved. So for example, a cell phone can’t tell like let’s say for instance, you’re standing at a corner and I’m at the stoplight. It says we’re next each other, but we’re not together. So, a cell phone tracking can’t really tell that so eury people who aren’t involved, who are innocent, who are especially in this regard, peacefully protesting, having them be adjacent to other people doesn’t mean that they were involved so-
LN: Lets just say though, for instance, that they found that there was a string of businesses hit, the Foot Locker, then Denny’s Liquor, CVS and Walgreens.
LN: There were a group of 20 people that all pinged off the four cell phone towers at the same times, and we’re in close proximity to that and a few other people were ID’d, would that be enough to justify surveillance on people where there were four cell phone towers in common across a range that put them all in the vicinity of where looting took place?
DR: I’m not sure if it would justify surveillance, so to speak, but I think that if they have other evidence, it may help them target those people more closely but, in terms of sweeping people up in surveillance exercise, I don’t think that’s going to happen unless they have additional information. So, let’s say they have information just like you said, like, okay, these people are in the vicinity and then they posted a picture on Facebook with some loot gear that they got, that would be enough, I think, to justify surveillance but just the fact, surrounding the vicinity, that’s probably not enough to go on, I don’t think.
LN: I appreciate your opinions and thoughts on this. It’s a difficult time right now and hopefully we’ll have stability and we’ll have people held accountable on all fronts, not just the leaders.
Open for Business! Chicago is entering Phase 3 of the re-opening of Chicago plan. Some employees are continuing to work from home and others are no longer employed. How should a company get their devices returned or information removed from an employees device? Hire Enigma Forensics to be the go-between.
How to Retrieve Company Information from Employees no longer with the company?
What does Phase 3 mean for Chicago? Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot just announced Chicago is going to open up on Wednesday, June 3. Hip Hip Horay! Will Chicago be the bustling town ever again? Let’s hope so.
Even though many employees will be going back to the office, some employees will continue to work from home. What about the employees who are no longer continuing on with the company and have company information and uncompleted work on their personal electronic devices? How does a company retrieve that information?
These are all valid questions and you can bet that most companies were not prepared to address. How should a company go about getting their devices or information removed from an employees personal device?
Your first step should be to call and arrange a pick up of the electronic devices held by the former employee. If you are having difficulty retrieving your company property Enigma Forensics has the answer. In some instances calling on a third party to be the go-between can smooth out any ill feelings. Enigma Forensics can help retrieve property and perform a diagnostic review of the electronic devices. We can identify if any information has been copied or sent via email to an unauthorized third party.
In the future, companies should develop a confidential agreement outlining key information. It’s necessary to virtually adapt if necessary the off-boarding procedure, disabling e-mail, account access, and confirm inventory. Enigma Forensics emphasizes even though the employee is remote be consistent and conduct an exit interview and always utilize e-signature. Be Safe Chicago and Let’s Open UP!
The recent Pensacola Naval Air Station shooting left the FBI with the assailant’s locked iPhone. Apple has refused efforts to assist with bypassing the security features. Should legislation require Apple provide a back door to law enforcement? Hear more about the cell phone privacy debate between two noted cyber and privacy experts.
On Friday, December 6, an aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom at the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS) killing three people in the attack and injuring eight others. Another Saudi student recorded the shooting events as it unfolded. The shooter was identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, an aviation student from Saudi Arabia. The assailant’s name doesn’t really matter because the question in these national security threats remains the same.
How does law enforcement obtain personal information off smart devices in a timely fashion?
What role does cell phone privacy play when it comes to terror attacks such as the most recent Naval Air Station attack?
Leading computer forensic expert Lee Neubecker, CEO & President of Enigma Forensics discusses with the Data Diva, Debbie Reynolds of Debbie Reynolds Consulting about the many technical tools in their arsenal that’ll offer solutions in these cases.
Cell Phone Privacy: Naval Air Station Attack – Final Video of 4-part series
The transcript for Cell Phone Privacy – Naval Air Station Attack follows:
Lee Neubecker: Hi, I’m back again with Debbie Reynolds, the data diva. Thanks for being on the show again.
Debbie Reynolds: Thank you, Lee.
LN: So, we’re finishing up our multi-part series relating to cell phone forensics, as it relates to the FBI’s desire to get Apple and other information from the cell phone makers so that they can unlock their phones.
DR: Right, so there was a recent shooting, unfortunately, in Pensacola, at the Naval Air Station and because there were people who were recording the attack, they’re interested in being able to get information from those cell phones and this is renewed calls, as was the case with the San Bernardino attack in California in 2015, to have Apple help law enforcement unlock particular cell phones of folks.
LN: Yeah, as Debbie was saying, with the Pensacola Naval Air Station, what had been reported in the associated press was that a Saudi national student who was getting training out of the navy facility, which, our government trains foreign nationals and other militaries and has been doing that for a long time but some of the Saudi students had been watching, earlier that evening, they had been watching videos of mass shootings before the shooting took place. And during the shooting that she said, one of the students had been recording the events as they unfolded and likely has data on cell phones and other information.
DR: Right, I think the issue is, you know, is law enforcement able to get this information without accessing the cell phone and the chances are, possibly yes. But there are many different ways to get it.
LN: Yeah but this week they asked Apple for help to get in and they said they haven’t been able to get in the phone but like what happened with San Bernardino, it’s not entirely clear if they had fully used their capabilities, like their mobile access unit, had that unit exhausted their capabilities, had they reached out to third party vendors and computer forensic consultants and firms, like myself or others.
DR: That does this every day, yes.
LN: Or even the Israeli firm, called Cellebrite, which makes the equipment used by many forensic people, like myself, that was ultimately successful in unlocking the San Bernardino terrorist’s phone.
DR: Well, the one thing I will say is, in 2015, the phones have gotten a bit more advanced, the encryption is better but if, for example, people are taping things on cell phones, typically, they’re sharing it with other people so you may be able to get the information from another person’s phone, if the phone is backed up, you may be able to get the data from a backup, you may be able to get phone records about who they were calling or who they were texting, even though you may not get the actual footage, there are a lot of different ways to triangulate this information.
LN: And if they plugged their cell phone into their computer, a lot of times, it will automatically create a backup file but, in this case, I think the, you know, the FBI has a legitimate interest in wanting to know who were they texting right beforehand, were other people involved so I support that but I think that there are different means of how to accomplish their goal.
DR: Absolutely, absolutely. So, I think, the way that the story was told in the media, it makes it seem as though the only way the information can be gotten to is to have Apple or other cell phone makers create a vulnerability that anyone can use on any phone and I don’t think that that’s exactly true.
DR: Because we’ve not seen that in the field and many of us work with cell phones every day.
LN: Well, there was, recently disclosed, a vulnerability in every iPhone up to, not including, the very latest model but every iPhone relating to the Bootrom, where the phone can be, you know, basically, bootlegged and taken over until it’s rebooted, then it resets so I’m sure that there’s already bypass means on 95% of the iPhones out there, since most people aren’t running the latest model but again, the concern here is that it almost seems like there’s an effort to try to change the policy, you know, Director Comey, from the FBI, Former Director Comey had repeatedly stated that we need to be able to defeat encryption but by its nature, it’s like saying everyone should have weak locks on all their doors and companies shouldn’t lock their stuff up so that’s going to lead to problems in, you know, as I said, in the prior segment, a multi-key solution that has unlocked but specific to an individual user’s cell phone, with approval by the court, I think that is a much better solution than having a master key that can open up any phone.
DR: I think so and, I mean, we’ve seen in other cases, even though it’s not about terrorism, obviously, with the Jussie Smollett issue in Chicago, they were able to get a ton of information so they went to Uber, they had surveillance cameras, they had phones, I mean, the–
LN: They get GPS records on phones.
DR: Oh, all kinds of stuff.
LN: You can get cell phone tower records and then you have all these third-party apps like, you know, the secure Signal and WhatsApp, well, is it very secure if you get one of the two phones?
LN: Not exactly because you can see all the messages.
DR: Oh, absolutely and I think Paul Manafort, unfortunately, found this out the hard way when he was using WhatsApp to chat with people about illegal dealings and the forensic folks were able to get the exact chat and all the texts because he had backed it up to his iPhone or his iCloud, I believe, so.
LN: It’s interesting now, you discover, these days, when things get involved with what was intent on a business deal gone wrong or was there fraud or misrepresentation, you know, getting, finding out what the text messages are and who was texting with which party and what did they say, that can be very important and litigation, still, it seems that text messages are just starting to come upon the attorney’s radar, for asking for that information.
DR: Well, it’s coming up on their radar ’cause people use many different means so someone may start with an email and then go to maybe Snapchat or go to texts, so.
LN: Or Slack.
DR: Or Slack so there are many different, yeah, right.
LN: You’ve got these other platforms that are just, that should be part of the discovery, that are getting ignored, unless you have an attorney or advisors, like us.
LN: Helping to make sure that you get that information.
DR: Exactly, exactly, it’s not easy because it’s not as linear as you think it would be but if you know that you have this information, that it’s out there, it’s possible to find ways to get it. Obviously, the cell phone would probably be the easiest way to at least be able to help you point to where things are but there are different ways to be able to get the information, not necessarily, so you do need the cell phone for the actual texts, the text message but.
LN: But sometimes people have that hooked up to their computer too.
DR: Yes, that’s true, right, that’s true.
LN: So their computer might have, you know, people who have an Apple laptop and running that, you might be able to get the messages off the laptop, which is yet another means of getting the data and then, you know, there are entities that do log the messages in between so you have the servers that they cascade through so there’s a lot of places that the information can be found and, you know, before a mass policy change is made to just by giving an open key, you know, people need to think this through because, you know, we had keys, master keys that open in the past, those keys have gotten leaked and it’s created a lot of problems.
DR: No, absolutely, I think that’s the villain in almost any little movie you could think of, someone who has a master bit of information that can rule the world so this is definitely something that needs to be thought through and we already know that there are, you know, other things that can be done that don’t require, currently, a master key.
LN: Yeah, well, one of the ways that all of you can show your appreciation if you like our videos, is click like, share the videos out and sign up for our blogs and check ’em out, thanks a bunch for being on the show again.
DR: Thank you, Lee, this was fantastic.
LN: Have a good day, everyone.
More about Cell Phone Privacy
Enigma Forensics can help gain access to locked personal devices. Choose an expert!
More on Naval Air Station: Cell Phone Privacy.
FBI says…Deceased Assailant’s Locked Phones a Hurdle for Investigators.
Is it necessary to have Apple provide a back door so that law enforcement can access a person’s cell phone? Computer Forensic Experts Lee Neubecker and Debbie Reynolds say there are technical solutions to use instead.
A law-abiding citizen or a criminal’s cell phone can be the largest piece of evidence in a criminal investigation. Once confiscated, cell phones are powerful tracking devices that can be used to infringe on an individual’s cell phone privacy. In this video, Data Diva, Debbie Reynolds of Debbie Reynolds Consulting’s and renowned Computer Forensics Expert Lee Neubecker, CEO & President of Enigma Forensics share their cell phone cracking technical solutions. Is the government’s desire to have a backdoor into all smartphones really necessary? No matter what security measures are placed on smart phone devices, there are many technical solutions available from the computer forensics experts to utilize when attempting to unlock a mobile smart cell phone. Check out this video to learn what technical solutions available that don’t require going back to the manufacturer and asking them to create a backdoor.
Cell Phone Privacy: Part 3 of 4
Lee Neubecker: Hi, thanks for watching the show again, we’re now talking again about cell phone forensics as it relates to privacy issues and our government’s request to get information on specific cell phone users. I have Debbie Reynolds the data diva back on the show. Joining me again, and to help me elucidate some of the unique issues that relate to the current situation.
Debbie Reynolds: Right, so there are privacy issues obviously with being able to track, or be able to crack someone’s cell phone. In a law enforcement situation, time’s of the essence. They want to be able to get the information on the cell phone the best way that they can. The issue is, and especially with the Louden news reports, they aren’t exactly accurate about how this happened. So in order to do this cracking of certain cell phones, there are things that forensic folks, like Lee can do to actually do this that don’t require you going back to the manufacturer, asking them to create a backdoor. My opinion, and I think this is something that was echoed by Apple in their objection to this. Is that, you know, the iPhone or the cell phone is their invention. And the way that they do privacy for phones is kind of their unique, you know, secret sauce or special sauce so. Being able to, Having to try to do that is sort of the antithesis of what they’re doing, of their invention. And I’m not seeing any court cases where ever. Where someone had to literally create, invent something to sort of negate their own invention.
LN: And even then government, like, our US government has resources to have a lab where they can use equipment to actually replicate all the chips and storage devices. And then make a virtual machine where they can brute-force crack the device without worrying about the three false passwords that slow it down. Because if you virtualize, if you duplicate the embedded memory off the D-Ram, the various chips and storage, you can then set up a mass server farm of virtual machines to just pound away, trying combinations. And with quantum computing, it wouldn’t take much time, but that isn’t even necessary today. There are easier tools to get into the phones, but the real issue becomes if, it would much be like if the government said we want everyone to have one particular key-type for their home.
LN: So that we have a key that we can take and we can get into any door without having to break down the door.
LN: And the problem with that is, what happens when someone gets fired from the FBI and they copy that key? You know, then we got to lock change every house in America? And every business.
DR: Yeah, who’s to say, I mean not every person who has a phone is a criminal. So if you think let’s say you know 1% of everyone who has cell phones is doing a criminal activity, so should 99% of everyone else have these vulnerabilities that, you know, hackers love to have. They would love to be able to crack into your phone and do different things.
LN: That could actually you know lead to HIPAA violations, you know there are physicians and people that have some medical data as they connect to their work machines. and if there’s this weak backdoor key, that creates a problem. Now, I want to talk a little bit about how I think they could do it and it hasn’t been done yet.
LN: But if Apple were to issue, I mean if you have a multi-key solution where anyone key alone doesn’t work. But the FBI could make a request to the justice department, to the judiciary, a judge of some sort. The judge could issue a key unique to the cell phone IMEI identifier, and then that information could be a key that then goes to Apple or to Microsoft or whatever provider, who then generates a key that can unlock the phone. So you can have a multi-key solution, but it’s specific to the phone and that would preclude a situation where any one person’s key gets leaked and all phones are compromised. And, you know, if for instance the FBI’s key that they use to generate request keys, if that got compromised they would rotate that and going forward new keys would be used and they’d invalidate all the others. But you’d have a technical means to still get into the phone without necessarily meaning that every phone is totally open to one key.
DR: I think so, but I think, that’s actually a smart solution. But I also think companies like Apple, and I’m, we’re just picking on Apple ’cause the phone was an Apple phone that we’re talking about. But, you know, companies are in business to make money, and not to be law enforcement. So there’s probably not a lot of money in law enforcement stuff for them, so they may not be compelled, or feel like this is something they really want to invest a lot of time or energy in. Especially because there are smart people that do this for a living and can actually do this work.
LN: I support the idea that if there’s a terrorist out there, that we should have a system that does allow to get into that phone, but there’s got to be a check and balance, it can’t just be one person acting alone or else it inherently makes everything insecure.
DR: I agree, I agree. Yeah, it’s a tough issue, I feel like people get really, sort of, wound up about it. especially ’cause they’re thinking about sort of, patriotism and freedom and stuff like that. But you know there’s a way to solve this problem without creating problems for the whole world basically.
LN: Thanks for watching this segment, in our next segment we’ll talk about the more recent story regarding the Pensacola Naval Air Station terrorist attack, as they’re calling it. And the FBI’s renewed request of Apple to get into the cell phone.
Computer Forensic Experts Lee Neubecker and Debbie Reynolds discuss the problem that involves government versus cell phone privacy.
Cell phone privacy played an important role in the San Bernardino attacks. On December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, open fired on San Bernardino County workers at a holiday party killing 14 and injuring 22 others. The FBI wanted Apple to give them access to the perpetrator’s phone.
Apple states, “We built strong security into the iPhone because people carry so much personal information on our phones today, and there are new data breaches every week affecting individuals, companies, and governments.” Apple continued…”We feel strongly that if we were to do what the government has asked of us — to create a backdoor to our products — not only is it unlawful, but it puts the vast majority of good and law-abiding citizens, who rely on iPhone to protect their most personal and important data, at risk.”
Leading computer forensics expert Lee Neubecker, CEO & President of Enigma Forensics discusses the issues relating to cell phone privacy and the government’s desire to have a back door into your smartphone with the Data Diva, Debbie Reynolds of Debbie Reynolds Consulting. These experts have an interesting perspective.
Cell Phone Privacy: Part 2 of 4
The Video Transcript follows.
Lee Neubecker (LN): Hi, I’m back again with Debbie Reynolds. Thanks again for being on the show.
Debbie Reynolds: Thank you, Lee.
LN: So, we’re continuing with this multi-part series talking about cell phone forensics.
LN: It’s specifically, this section we’re going to talk about the San Bernardino 2015 December attacker that unleashed terror, Syed Farook, and at the time when that happened, the FBI went to Apple and claimed that they needed assistance with unlocking the phone.
DR: Right, so I remember this very well. This was maddening to me, because a lot of the news reports, I don’t think any of them correctly stated how cell phones actually work, and they sort of bungled the information about the cell phone. So, a lot of the articles were trying to say that the only way they could unlock the cell phone is with Apple’s help,
LN: That wasn’t true. We knew that wasn’t true.
DR: No, you know that wasn’t true.
LN: You know, I thought when they were doing that, that they might have said that to put out misinformation so that other people who were communicating with the terrorists might have thought that they were safe. I was wondering if they might have done that on purpose so that people would keep their phones so that they could track and follow other people.
DR: I don’t know, my feeling was that you know, the FBI or whoever was making this request was trying to create a precedent to be able to have people like Apple give them, create vulnerabilities in phones so they don’t have to do this one-on-one unlock feature, but why would Apple or any other company who’s in the business to make money create a vulnerability that possibly could be the antithesis of their invention. I wouldn’t use a cell phone if I thought it was unsafe, right, or insecure.
LN: Well, I just assume they’re all insecure.
DR: Well, as secure as it can be
LN: As secure as it can be, but you know, Microsoft, Apple, they issue patches and updates for security flaws every month, so there are still bugs out there that can be exploited, but when that happened right away, I was wondering why they didn’t call Cellebrite, and ultimately, Cellebrite, Israeli firm, they’re likely the ones who actually got the contract to unlock that phone.
DR: Yeah, right, exactly.
LN: But the whole notion of having a common key that law enforcement can quickly unlock any device without any judicial intervention, it’s a little concerning.
DR: It’s very much concerning. It’s like you’re trying to boil the ocean to solve one problem.
LN: Well, then if you have one key, someone in the FBI leaves, and they take that key with them, then they go and they link it on the Dark Web, and this is the type of thing that’s happened with contractors to various cyber agencies and the government, and these keys get out there, or weapons get out there, and everyone’s getting exploited, and it takes the government a long time to report it to Microsoft, to Apple, and everyone’s getting hacked in the meantime.
DR: Well, and there are a lot of other ways to get stuff off of a phone, so I think of a phone as a gateway to other things. You know, if even you do banking on your phone, if you lose your phone, that doesn’t mean that the information’s lost. You can go to the bank, companies can serve affidavits on different entities that have other information. If a person was communicating with someone else, you may be able to crack their phone, so there are a lot of different ways to solve this problem that don’t require creating a back door for a complete product.
LN: Yeah, and you know to your point about the issue when then-director Comey, James Comey, had testified seeing that they needed help, apparently the FBI’s own remote phone specialization group hadn’t been tasked with trying to get into the phones, so they hadn’t fully explored their own capabilities before they went to ask for Apple, because like you said, they wanted to establish precedent, and they wanted to change how it worked, and I think we’ve consistently seen and heard that the FBI wants full access anytime so that they can protect people, and there are some issues with that because if it’s simply full access, it’s going to make everyone less secure.
DR: Absolutely, absolutely, so I think all of us, there was quite a bit of eye-rolling when these reports were coming out about them not being able to do the cell phone, and it was like a lower version, too, so it wasn’t like the super– With every cell phone they get more secure, the OS–
LN: You know, it’s like give me the cell phone, DR: Exactly! LN: I’ll get into it. DR: Exactly!
DR: You know, even when they were interviewing people in the press, they weren’t really interviewing the forensic people who do this for a living, so I’m like who are they talking to?
LN: All the computer forensic people I know, we talked about this. The best plausible explanation I could think of, again, that they were trying to create a false narrative so that they could break up other people who were collaborating, but in fact, the Inspector General’s report from the FBI revealed that they just hadn’t fully done everything, and it sounds like it was two-part, it was part they wanted the power and the access, but second the operational component. What happens, you know, there’s a more recent case that we’ll talk about in a later series, and the question becomes then, again, have they used that most, their own internal resources fully before they’re going to Apple?
DR: Or even have they leveraged people like Lee, who do this for a living. It was funny, because when they were, when this case was going on, I had another case at the same time, had the same cell phone, and literally I sent it out and got it cracked like within a day. I couldn’t understand what the issue was, exactly.
LN: Hey, what can I say, I’m good.
LN: Well, tune in for our next segment, where we’ll be talking more about some privacy issues related to having a back door, and some better solutions that if, you know, if Congress and Senate if they want to pass legislation, there are some ways that we can still allow the FBI to get in without having a common back door key that doesn’t undermine security.
LN: Thanks for watching. DR: Thank you.
To review the first video in this series please read below.
One can’t overstate how much of our personal lives we reveal to our smartphones and that includes criminals too. Watch this three-part series to learn more.
Introduction of our four-part series on Mobile Phone Privacy and Security.
Cell phone privacy is a real concern for both individual users and law enforcement. Literally, everything you do on your smartphone or any other device is vulnerable and completely defenseless against criminals and sometimes the government. Think about what you have on your phone and how it’s used on a daily basis. All of your personal contacts, photos, videos, text messages, emails, online bank or other accounts, GPS locations data, basically, your history of who, what, where, when and how about yourself all exist on your smartphone. We can’t overstate how much of our personal lives are revealed and how much our cell phones are vulnerable if disclosed to unauthorized parties.
Guess what? Criminals have cell phones too, and their information can lead to not only solving a crime but saving lives. Law enforcement agencies continue to call for access to encrypted communications and devices, while tech companies warn that doing this would weaken the protection and allow potential criminals to take advantage of that same access. Leading computer forensics expert Lee Neubecker, CEO & President of Enigma Forensics discusses the issues relating to cell phone privacy and the government’s desire to have a back door into your smartphone with the Data Diva, Debbie Reynolds of Debbie Reynolds Consulting.
Cell Phone Privacy: Part 1 of 4
The video discussion transcript follows.
Lee Neubecker: Hi, it’s Lee Neubecker again, and I have “the Data Diva”, Debbie Reynolds back on my show again.
Debbie Reynolds: Hi!
LN: Thanks for being on.
DR: Thank you, Lee, for having me. I’m happy to be here.
LN: So we’re going to try something new. Instead of doing a big long eight to ten-minute video clip, we’re going to do a multi-part series, and this one’s going to be on the topic of…
DR: Cell phone forensics and recent incidents in the news having to do with the government asking private companies to unlock or create back doors to cell phones.
LN: Yeah, so cell phone privacy is an issue that many people are concerned about There’s a legitimate national interest in being able to investigate when terrorists use cell phones to conduct attacks. But there are also some concerns that every business should be concerned about if there’s a single back door key because we know the government can’t keep their keys in place. At least that’s what happened to the FBI, the NSA, then other agencies that were breached following the OPM breach.
DR: That’s right.
LN: So in the first segment of our four-video series, were going to be talking about what was reported by the Inspector General’s report from the FBI involving the San Bernardino terrorists when they wanted to get into the cell phone.
DR: Right. And next, we are going to talk about the privacy issues related to the FBI or possibly companies creating back doors, the court issues, the key solutions, and also the imperatives of organizations or companies not wanting to create these types of vulnerabilities in their inventions.
LN: Then you’ll get to hear us banter a little bit about what we think should happen
DR: That’s right.
LN: And then finally, in our last segment, the Pensacola Navy Yard station shooting that happened just this week. The FBI again approached Apple wanting help to get into the phone because they haven’t been able to get into the phone, and they’re wanting to know who else was involved, who they were texting with and whatnot so that they can help prevent other such attacks. So, that will be the wrap-up, and we welcome your comments on the website, your likes, and feel free to check out our video and share it.
Personal Cell Phone Forensics inlcudes social media, business and personal messages, photos, emails and GPS.
Leading computer forensics Expert Lee Neubecker, discusses the complexities of cell phone forensics with Debbie Reynolds from Debbie Reynolds Consulting. We both agree the litigation involving cell phones becomes personal and proves difficult to gain possession. Personal and business text messages, social media posts, photos, GPS records, emails, are all weaved together and become part of the discovery equation. eDiscovery in today’s era is incomplete without including data from smart phone including text messages, Skype, WhatsApp, Slack, Signal and other messaging platforms. Learn more about eDiscovery as it relates to personal cell phone messaging systems by watching Reynolds and Neubecker discuss the topic in today’s blog video interview.
The video interview transcript follows:
Lee Neubecker: Hi, I’m here today again with Debbie Reynolds, and we’re going to talk about something interesting, which every piece of litigation now is getting into. We’re talking about cell phone forensics. What’s been your experience with litigation involving cell phones and discovery?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, whenever they’re cell phones involved eye-rolling begins because people take their cell phones very personally. As opposed to someone’s laptop, which maybe they don’t want to give up, they will fight tooth and nail not to give up their cell phones. And obviously people, they mix work with pleasure and they’re doing different things. They may not want you to see, even if it’s nothing criminal going on, people just feel very tied to their cell phone. The hardest thing is actually getting possession of it and letting them know that you’re not going to look through their juicy texts or their photographs, especially if it’s not an issue in the case.
Lee Neubecker: I know that whenever you need to get into text messages, it becomes a sensitive topic for people. But there are effective ways to get effective discovery without totally trampling over someone’s privacy in many issues involving contract disputes or other civil litigation, what’s important is to identify the relevant custodians. Let’s say we have your cell phone in the conversation with mine, we can then take that, we can create a single PDF document showing each conversation thread and then you could quickly go through it, if it’s your phone in which your attorney identify relevant, not relevant, and then only take the ones that are between the relevant parties and load that up into the review platform.
Debbie Reynolds: Right. And to one thing, one very effective thing that people are doing now, and that’s something that you do, Lee, is where someone, they don’t want the other side to see their whole cell phone so they’ll have a forensic company collect the phone and say, only give them X. That’s actually a very secure way. It gives people peace of mind knowing that they’re not giving everything over, that the forensic folks can actually do some of this pre-work before people actually start looking at things.
Lee Neubecker: Yeah. And like what I’ve done is, they’re not going to pay me to spend time looking at their photos, nor do I want to look at that stuff.
Debbie Reynolds: No. No one cares. I think that’s what people don’t understand. We’ve been working on cases for over 20 years and I really don’t care what’s on the phone or what you said or what videos on there. It really makes a little difference to us.
Lee Neubecker: What I try to do is I try to quickly create almost a summary index of okay, these are the conversation threads. Tell me which phone numbers are relevant, aren’t relevant, who are the relevant parties, and then we can just pull those specific threads out, put them up into the review platform.
Debbie Reynolds: Exactly.
Lee Neubecker: Now, sometimes there’s issues where photos are relevant specifically, if it’s important that you know the whereabouts or someone on a given date and time. Photos often can establish whether or not someone was really at home sick or out on vacation somewhere. There’s embedded GPS data that is recorded into most photos that are taken with smartphones.
Debbie Reynolds: Unless someone decides to strip it out. I think if you don’t do anything to it, it will collect that data. But there are ways to strip that information out. And also, people can turn off GPS tracking on their phone.
Lee Neubecker: Yeah. Well, thanks for being on the show again today.