The FBI doesn’t need Apple to unlock Pensacola terrorist’s iPhones

Apple's iPhone 7
Apple’s iPhone 7

Forensics firm Cellebrite has released a new update its UFED Physical Analyzer software that could be used to access data on the Pensacola Islamic terrorist’s iPhones at the center of the latest battle between Apple and the U.S. government.

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

The tool uses an exploit called Checkm8 that allows access to chips running on iPhones released between 2011 and 2017. Cellebrite, owned by Japan’s Sun Corp. said its latest version of the tool works with the iPhone 5S, first sold in 2013, through the iPhone X, sold in 2017.

This could help investigators analyze at least one of the iPhones that belonged to Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the perpetrator of a Dec. 6 terrorist attack at a Navy base in Florida. Alshamrani died and his iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 were locked, leaving the FBI looking for ways to hack into the devices.

The FBI has been pressing Apple to help it break into the attacker’s iPhones. President Donald Trump called on the company to step up. But the government can hack into the devices without the technology giant, experts in cybersecurity and digital forensics said on Tuesday.

MacDailyNews Take: The U.S. government isn’t as interested in what’s on the terrorist’s iPhones as it is in somehow trying to force Apple to provide a repeatable method to unlock them. The duplicitous U.S. government wants into every iPhone for whatever reason, valid or otherwise. That’s their goal.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin

Once again, this highlights another good reason to upgrade your older iPhone.

iOS uses the Secure Enclave Processor (hardware) to throttle passcode input requests, introducing waiting times when too many incorrect passcode attempts have been made. GrayKey bypasses this on older iPhone models, so passcodes can be tried in succession until discovered.

This brute force method is precisely why those concerned with security don’t use four-digit passcodes. Instead, use long, alphanumeric passwords and, even if there is a GrayKey box on every corner, your data will remain secure.

Use at least seven characters – even longer is better – and mix numbers, letters, and symbols.

To change your password in iOS:
Settings > Face ID & Passcodes > Change Passcode > Passcode Options: Custom Alphanumeric Code

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]


  1. Both Trump and Barr are attacking Apple while praising Saudi Arabia’s cooperation in the Pensacola terrorist attack.
    If the Govt. had the ability to “backdoor” our phones they would probably share it with totalitarian governments like the Saudis.
    Apple has every right to be cautious.

  2. That Matthew Green timeline is purely theoretical based on what a computer can feed to an iPhone to attempt passcodes. However, real world is a different matter. His assumptions are wrong. Users of the Greykey and Cellebrite systems report a 4 digit pass code has an average solve time more like two hours, not 6.5 minutes. How can this be in such a discrepancy with Green’s chart?

    Green assumed in April 2018 that a passcode can be tested ever 0.08 seconds by getting around a software lockout limitation. However, I recalled that Apple placed a 1.3 second hardware delay between passcode attempts, a rate in keeping with what a human user was deemed to need to input another attempt after making a mistaken attempt. After all, passcodes are supposed to be input by a human finger on the Touch Screen, not by a computer through the lightning port or some algorithm internally. It’s is, after all, a human interface, not a computer interface, intended for the input. When you use that 1.3 second per try, then an average unlock time of about 2 hours for a four digit passcode for both Cellebrite and GreyKey becomes explicable, as do the other average reported times for longer passcodes. In light of the technique developed by these two companies, Apple is NOT going to make computer assisted brute force unlocking iPhone by allowing 12-13 attempts per second when it would be an easy block to implement in hardware. They did.

    A more accurate table would show those times with a 1.3 second hardware delay to be:

    4 digits ~2 hours average (3 hours 37 minutes worst case) — Which is what has been reported.
    6 digits ~216 hours, or ~9 days average (~14 ½ days worst case) — again, what has been reported.
    6 alphanumeric characters ~1288 years average (~2147 years worst case) — not even tried.
    8 alphanumeric characters ~5,400,000 years (9,000,000 years worst case) — you’re kidding right?

    Incidentally, a mere six alphanumeric plus symbols (92 choices) character passcode (even assuming Green’s 0.08 second test speed would take about 1,538 years to try all 606,355,001,344 possible passcodes. Any dispositive evidence data on the iPhone would likely be moot by then.

    At the 1.3 second per try, it would take 19,227 years.

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