It's no secret for anyone that law enforcement agents have their way of cracking into locked phones when conducting an investigation, but iPhones have been always sturdy in the security department, which has always made things harder for people who try to crack into them.
However, unlocking them without the user's authorization isn't necessarily an impossible feat. As it turns out, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been using a tool capable of granting them access to iPhones and high-end Android phones.
This tool is designated as “Universal Forensic Extraction Device” or UFED for short and is developed by Israeli firm Cellebrite.
Manhattan District Attorney’s office is an old customer of Cellebrite
The interesting part of this story is not the fact that the NYC police department has a way of cracking into suspect's iPhones, as the tool was publicly announced in June of this year, the interesting bit is that they have been doing it since 2018.
According to a contract document obtained by OneZero, it was revealed that Manhattan DA's office agreed to pay Cellebrite $200,000 for 3 years of UFED Premium. This fee covers the software license as well as the installation and training of personnel; the contract also references an additional $1 million worth of add-ons, which at the moment remain undisclosed.
The tool in question allows agents of the law to access messages, third-party app data, deleted content and other data of a blocked iPhone.
Nonetheless, is not like the New York City Police Department can do anything they please with the software, as there are some rules in place that must be respected. In this sense, it is obligatory to conduct the process in a safe room without any kind of audiovisual recording device. On top of that, there is a limit of devices that can ever be cracked as stated by the contract.
Cracking into people’s devices seems like a profitable business, as Cellebrite just signed in September a $30 million contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the US.
As you would expect, when ask by OneZero about their contract with the Manhattan DA’s office, Cellebrite refused to give any comments on the topic, since is forbidden by the company policies. The same can be said about the Manhattan DA’s office, whose only reply was “We do not comment on law enforcement operations or investigative techniques.”