FBI supports & blames encryption for 7,800 devices it can’t unlock

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) director blames encryption for thousands of phones the Bureau could not unlock but then he also supports “strong encryption.”

FBI director Christopher Wray said during a conference that the Bureau in 2017 failed to open 7,800 mobile devices and view their contents. The reason for this was that those devices were encrypted. One case that made news in 2016 was regarding the access to encrypted iPhone 5C device of San Bernardino shooter in which the Bureau asked Apple for access to the phone but the request was declined by the company.

Half of the devices are inaccessible

At the conference, held at Fordham University in New York, Wray said the FBI had attempted to crack 15,000 devices. With a little, more than half that did not work. The FBI “of course supports” good encryption, but also emphasizes that they should have access to the information on the device through a court order.

“Let me be clear: The FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don’t undermine the lawful tools we need to keep this country safe,” Wray emphasized.

Not targeting ordinary citizens

All the devices that the Bureau tried to crack had a specific target or danger in the eyes of authorities. It is not about phones from ordinary citizens, but about devices by terrorists or criminals, Wray says.

“This problem impacts our investigations across the board—human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation, and cyber. And this issue comes up in almost every conversation I have with leading law enforcement organizations, and with my foreign counterparts from most countries—and typically in the first 30 minutes,” said Wray.

According to Wray, it is a major public security issue that Bureau failed to crack half of the devices. The FBI asked Apple to make a backdoor in 2016 so that, conversations from San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone could be retrieved and used as a proof. In reply, Apple had refused to assist the FBI however, a month later, the Bureau was able to crack the shooter’s iPhone device by paying millions of dollars to Cellebrite, a privately held Israeli company.

Not for the first time

This is not the first time that an FBI official has complained about encryption in smartphones. Previously, Michael Steinbach, a senior FBI official told the House Homeland Security Committee in Congress that Apple and Google are encouraging terrorism by providing encrypted communication facility.

The former FBI director Jim Comey pleaded for a law which would pressurize tech companies to form a backdoor into any encrypted communication device. Simply put; Comey wanted tech giants to disable default smartphone encryption.

Watch Comey’s view on encryption

Top, featured image credit: PixaBay/BiljaST

Waqas

Waqas Amir is a Milan-based cybersecurity journalist with a passion for covering latest happenings in cyber security and tech world. In addition to being the founder of this website, Waqas is also into gaming, reading and investigative journalism.