You can hack almost any iPhone with just $100 worth of electronics

ios 11
Jessica Lee Star/Digital Trends
The FBI made headlines when it paid security contractors an estimated $1.3 million to unlock an iPhone 5C last year, but as it turns out, bypassing the security on Apple’s top-of-the-line headset doesn’t necessarily require a truckload of money — or the expertise of one of the world’s largest law enforcement agencies. A U.K.-based computer scientist demonstrated an exploit that requires no more than $100 worth of off-the-shelf equipment… and plenty of patience.

In a YouTube video posted Monday morning, Cambridge University’s Dr. Sergei Skorobogatov, a Russian senior research associate, said he’d successfully designed a hardware backdoor that allows any user to bypass the iPhone’s PIN security. Normally, iOS limits the number of incorrect PIN entries to six before locking for incrementally longer periods of time, but Skorobogatov’s solution allows a theoretically unlimited number of attempts. “I can repeat the process many many times until the passcode is found,” he said.

The exploit leverages vulnerabilities within the iPhone’s Nand, the chip responsible for the phone’s internal storage. Dr. Skorobogatov modified a target iPhone to accept chips from an external motherboard. He then detached the old Nand module, used off-the-shelf hardware components to digitally mirror the files it contained, and copied the resulting “clone” to a fresh chip. The iPhone couldn’t tell the difference — and after Skorobogatov seated and rewired the new chip in the phone’s board, the PIN attempt attempt counter reset to zero.

From that point, guessing the PIN is a trivial, albeit arduous, process. Dr. Skorobogatov said that a four-digit PIN took about 40 hours, and that a six-digit pin could potentially take hundreds of hours.

It’s not a holistic exploit. Dr. Skorobogatov said that iPhones newer than the iPhone 6 Plus would require a “more sophisticated” set-up — newer methods of encryption could make it “more challenging to analyse and copy,” he said. And Dr. Skorobagatov said that in fringe cases, the process could require “an advanced team of researchers” to undertake successfully. But other iOS devices are likely vulnerable. “iPads use very similar hardware, hence models which are based on A6 SoC or previous generations should be possible to attack,” Dr. Skorobogatov said. “Newer versions will require further testing.”

Dr. Skorobogatov’s work seems to contradict statements made by FBI Director James Comey. In March, he told press that Nand vulnerabilities “[wouldn’t] work” on the iPhone 5C the bureau was targeting.

But it’s not the first time the veracity of the FBI’s claim has come into question. In May, the Los Angeles Police Department managed to break into a locked iPhone 5S. And the Indian government claims it has a mobile forensics tool that can “[handle] smartphones including Apple phones.”

The FBI’s analysis of an iPhone 5C owned by Syed Farook, one of two shooters who perpetrated an attack in San Bernardino, California that left 14 people dead, made global headlines when the agency mounted legal action against Apple. It sought a court order requiring the Cupertino company to create a tool to bypass the iPhone 5C’s PIN protection.

Apple argued that such a backdoor would pose an omnipresent threat to the “privacy” and “security” of its customers — a sentiment echoed by hundreds of tech companies, privacy advocates, and human rights groups, as well as legal, tech, cryptology, and cybersecurity experts.

The FBI dropped its case after a team of anonymous hackers demonstrated a successful bypass of the phone’s security, but not before publicly condemning encryption technologies like those employed on Apple’s iOS devices. “[It’s the] essential tradecraft” of terrorists like the Islamic State, Comey told Reuters in July. He singled out WhatsApp, a messaging platform that enabled secured messaging and calling by default, as a platform “affecting the criminal work (of the FBI) in huge ways.”

In September, a group of publishers including the Associated Press, Vice Media, and Gannett Media, filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the FBI for failing to disclose the vulnerability — and consultants — it used in bypassing the iPhone 5C’s security. The case is currently pending before a circuit court judge.


Israeli company claims it can unlock any iPhone up to iOS 12.3 for police

Israel-based forensics firm Cellebrite claimed that its UFED Premium service can unlock any iPhone. The device will be sold as an on-premises tool, which means that the police will be able to use it any way they want.
Movies & TV

Prime-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite TV series currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

Skip the sunshine this summer and watch the best shows on Hulu

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.

Sonarax harnesses ultrasonic sound for improved security, indoor navigation

Navigating the mall, finding your car, and authenticating your identity for mobile payments can all be a pain, but that's not all they have in common -- they could also potentially be made much easier with high-frequency ultrasonic sound.

Huawei's folding phone held back for more tests, will be released in September

The Huawei Mate X is an exciting 5G folding smartphone with stunning looks. The Mate X has three screens, a clever hinge system, and a Leica camera. All the details you need to know are right here.

You can pre-order the Galaxy S10 5G from Sprint starting today

Samsung announced a whopping four new Galaxy S10 devices, from the low-cost S10e to the triple-camera S10 and S10 Plus. But it's the Galaxy S10 5G that steals the show, as it's the first 5G-ready smartphone to hit the market.

5 features I’d like to see in Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone

We’ve had a sneak peek at Google’s forthcoming Pixel 4 smartphone, and it offers few clues about what we’ll get. These are the 5 features I’d like to see Google include to take the Pixel line to the next level.

These are the best Moto Z4 cases to boost your new phone’s longevity

The Moto Z4 is the newest way to experience Motorola's flagship range. But just because it's cheap, doesn't mean that it's expendable. Make sure your new and beautiful Moto Z4 survives for a long time with one of the best Moto Z4 cases.

Pixel 4 gets spotted in real world, showing not even Google can stop the leaks

Rumors abound about the Google Pixel 4, Google's next Pixel phone following the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a. Getting around the leaks, Google straight-up teased an image of the back of the phone. Here's what you need to know.
Home Theater

Diagnose and fix some common Apple AirPods problems with our handy guide

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.

Fitbit Versa and Samsung Gear fitness smartwatches get big Amazon price cuts

Some of the best options can get pretty pricey, but with smartwatch discounts on the Fitbit Versa and Samsung Gear Sport, they are really quite affordable right now. You can save up to $125 on a new fitness watch.

Huawei’s lock screen ads were a mistake, but may be a sign of things to come

Ads were placed on the lock screen of Huawei device owners yesterday, causing outcry on forums and social media. Huawei initially said it wasn't responsible, but that's no longer the case. Here's what happened.

These are the best Pixel 3a XL cases and covers to protect your Google phone

If you want to change up the look or feel of your new Google phone, you want some decent drop protection, or both, then we have you covered with this list of the best Google Pixel 3a XL cases and covers.

The best Amazon Prime Day 2019 deals: Leaked date and what you need to know

Amazon Prime Day 2019 is still a month away, but it's never too early to start preparing. We've been taking a look at the best discounts from previous Prime Days to give you our predictions of what to expect this year.