Motherboard has a new report out on the subject.
When cops have a phone to break into, they just might pull a small, laptop-sized device out of a rugged briefcase. After plugging the phone in with a cable, and a few taps of a touch-screen, the cops have now bypassed the phone’s passcode. Almost like magic, they now have access to call logs, text messages, and in some cases even deleted data.
State police forces and highway patrols in the US have collectively spent millions of dollars on this sort of technology to break into and extract data from mobile phones, according to documents obtained by Motherboard. Over 2,000 pages of invoices, purchase orders, communications, and other documents lay out in unprecedented detail how one company in particular has cornered the trade in mobile phone forensics equipment across the United States.
Cellebrite, an Israel-based firm, sells tools that can pull data from most mobile phones on the market, such as contact lists, emails, and wiped messages. Cellebrite’s products can also circumvent the passcode locks or other security protections on many current mobile phones. The gear is typically used to gather evidence from a criminal suspect’s device after it has been seized, and although not many public examples of abuse are available, Cellebrite’s tools have been used by non-US authorities to prosecute dissidents.
“We use it for any and all crimes,” Nate McLaren, Special Agent in Charge at the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Cyber Crime Unit and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, told Motherboard in a phone call. “Anywhere we think there might be a digital footprint or a digital fingerprint.”