Diana Quer disappeared from A Coruña, Spain, in August 2016 and the only clue that has been obtained to try to locate it is her mobile phone, an iPhone 6 that a shellfish found in an estuary near the pier of Taragoña, in Rianxo. An iPhone 6 that had spent two months under water and was visibly deteriorated by, among other things, exposure to water from the estuary itself.
As soon as the mobile phone was found, the Civil Guard, specifically the Criminal Service, SECRIM, began the investigation to try to obtain as much information as possible from the phone. Until now, only the WhatsApp conversation history of Diana (thanks to a duplicate of the SIM and only acceding to the messages not received until the moment) but at last has been able to unlock the telephone, almost a year later. How did it take so long to get it?
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The San Bernardino iPhone
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With the case of the disappearance of Diana Quer we are again facing something similar to what happened in March 2016 with the FBI in San Bernardino, United States. A blocked mobile phone that needs to extract all possible information but that makes things very difficult because of its encryption software and the person responsible for not allowing strangers access to the phone.
Apple does not put the easy things arrived at this point because they affirm, and that each one values their reasons, that to facilitate the access to its telephones to third parties, whether governments or who requires it, would violate the contract with its own users. Not to mention that the security of iOS is so high that not even Apple can violate the encryption of their phones. Everything happens because the access code is known.
In the case of the San Bernardino iPhone, the terrorist had an iPhone 5c in his possession, and the FBI took almost four months to get his safety out. It did so thanks to the Israeli company Cellebrite and cost him the despicable sum of 900,000 dollars, or that was what transcended the means.
While restoring from scratch a phone from Apple or any other manufacturer is a fairly simple process and usually occurs, for example, with stolen phones, accessing these phones without losing their content is a much more complex process and, as far as we know so far, only Cellebrite is able to get.
Keep in mind that to unlock an iPhone can not be used brute force, after several failed attempts the phone automatically reboots and everything inside is lost. So Cellebrite had to resort to all his experience, and software designed ex professor to get skip the protection of the famous iPhone 5c of the authors of the shooting in San Bernardino.
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An iPhone 6 off, iOS 8 and a six-digit PIN
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With the mobile of Diana Quer Civil Guard have had to do with an iPhone 6 and the fact that Apple, repeating the same procedure as the iPhone of San Bernardino, preferred to remain on the sidelines and not offer any advantage to the authorities managed to skirt the safety of the mobile phone.
There is also the case that the iPhone 6 was considered at launch as the first mobile phone spy-proof, all because of an algorithm built into your system, iOS 8, to prevent anyone from accessing protected files after the terminal key. No user except the rightful owner. Or any other who knew the key, of course. The encryption has the “fault”.
Unlike our competitors, Apple will not go over your password and, consequently, can not access that data. Technically, we will no longer be able to take on government requests to capture data from devices in their possession, provided they have iOS 8 installed.
The key was, therefore, both iOS 8 and the fact of finding the phone off (two months under water). The device required the PIN to light up, a code of six digits and not four, which made it unfeasible to use other systems like XCode . According to Apple, violating the encryption of their mobile phones would take more than 5 years although companies like Cellebrite say they can do it much sooner. In this case, the Civil Guard had to go to the Israelis to extract information from the phone of Diana Quer, and they accepted even though the process has been overdue.
Repair your phone and start unlocking
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The phone, moreover, came to the hands of the Civil Guard when there were only 3 attempts left to be formatted. The Civil Guard repaired the phone, drying it and cleaning it, with Cellebrite technicians, and then started the process, thanks to a software designed by Cellebrite, has ended the unlocking of Diana Quer’s phone.
Thus, the tasks of unlocking the phone began as soon as the device was rescued from the bottom of the waters of A Coruña so, for practical purposes, has not lasted as long as the time that Diana Quer is missing. As a point in favor of the Civil Guard, it seems that the bill will come out only for 2000 dollars, a tiny amount compared to the 900,000 dollars paid by the FBI last year.
The security of iOS evolves and is becoming more robust, with more complex “bridges”. But Cellebrite seems to have found the key to becoming imprescible in these judicial investigations.
New systems, new software to unlock protected phones and more experience on the ground. The keys to Cellebrite have managed to skip the PIN protection of Diana Queré’s iPhone 6, a six-digit code and not the classic four-digit code, in approximately nine months. Less than the 5 years that Apple claims.
We will see how long it takes from Cupertino to improve this system of encryption that Cellebrite has managed to “break” already on a couple of occasions, but by systems prior to the actual encryption itself. Especially because the Israelis are not going to reveal how they have managed to access these phones off without the intervention of their owners or help from Apple itself. If you know how to do something, do not explain it to a third party to continue to be essential.