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The Police Can Probably Break Into Your Phone


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Illustration of a police officer chasing escaping data.

According to nonprofit Upturn, law enforcement officials regularly break into encrypted smartphones, and police in all U.S. states have phone-hacking tools.

Credit: Boris Smniako

In an analysis of public records, Washington DC-based nonprofit Upturn found law enforcement officials regularly break into encrypted smartphones, and police in all U.S. states have phone-hacking tools.

The New York Times confirmed authorities have used these tools in a growing range of cases; records suggested hundreds of thousands of phones have been searched over the past five years.

Phone-hacking tools typically exploit security flaws to strip a phone's limit on passcode attempts, then enter passcodes until the phone unlocks; police often use tools from Atlanta-based Grayshift and Sun's Israeli unit Cellebrite to crack phones.

The spread of these products has encouraged police to search phones even for minor offenses, and Upturn's Logan Koepke worries about the lack of oversight or transparency.

From The New York Times
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