Phoney and the forensics value of Iphone chat

Phoneys is a software that allows a user to change the content of an Iphone chat thus altering the meaning of the conversation.While this is just an entertainment software, it might have some disturbing impacts on a possible criminal investigation.

Indeed, SMS, chat transcripts and messages are routinely used as a source of evidence by lawyers and prosecutors on the basis that if something is on a phone it can be hardly be faked. Of course, this is not always true, of course evidences must be corroborated by independent checks, of course the legal community is not that dumb to give face value to a text on a phone screen. But…

Phoneys allows a malicious person to create a prima facie deceiving fact, by exploiting the fact that a message has actually been sent, thus leading the investigator into thinking that a conversation took place with the intended correspondent. In an emergency context, the necessity of taking immediate action might push him to under evaluate what has been shown as “evidence”, thus jeopardizing the final result.

Maybe this is a either a minor or non-existent issue. But judicial reality has proven to be more surprising then legal-thriller. So, next time you’re confronted with a message as an evidence, why not double check?

Just in case…

After Apple, Facebook Is the Next Target of Judicial Orders to Cooperate With Prosecutors

According to a statement published on the Brazilian Policia Federal’s website, a criminal court issued a “mandado de priso preventiva” (roughly, pre-emptive arrest order) against Facebook’s representative in Brazil, charged of not having cooperated in providing information about a Facebook page.

The Brazilian Court, unlike the San Bernardino’s one in the Apple case, chose to put its white gloves off and go straight for the jugular, leaving no doubt about the fact that cooperation with the public prosecutor is a mandatory duty for everybody, tech-companies included.

By comparing the Apple and the Facebook cases (and Google’s public position about the topic) a disturbing trend emerges: Internet companies (at least the so said “Over The Top” – OTT) “think different” about themselves. Why the OTT should be let alone, when an ISP is burdened (often for free, BTW), to provide a public prosecutor with wiretapping, data-retention, forensic support, and data-mining services? Like it or not, corporate criminal liability and obstruction to justice regulation still work for the OTT too, and the OTT must live with it.

This Facebook case further supports the opinion I’ve expressed about the true issue at stake: by one side, the lack of confidence is our social and legal system as a whole and thus the fact that you can’t actually trust a magistrate and a law enforcement agency; by the other side the “ubermensch” syndrome that affects (not only high-tech) companies and that leads them into thinking that they have the “right” (or the power) to part the right from wrong.

Apple, the FBI and the All Writ Act. Why the New York Court is Wrong

The US District Court for the Eastern District of New York Order that prevented the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to force Apple to provide support in bypassing the passcode security on an Apple device is another chapter of the “Should-we-allow-State-to-mess-with-our-intellectual-property” saga, starring Apple.

Now that another Court ruled in a different way than the previous one, the score is even: 1 for the “crack-the-iphone” team, 1 for the “don’t-even-think-about-it” Cupertino’s.

To me, this legal uncertainty shows the mistake underlying the whole issue.

A public prosecutor has the power to do whatever it takes to finalize an investigation, provided that his powers are scrutinized by a judge. This is the theory, and a fair compromise under the “check-and-balance” doctrine.

So, from a strictly legal point, Apple and the NY court are wrong, since the privacy threats and the possibility of abuse were still there with the wiretapping, remote surveillance and so on. The Iphone issue is just a variation of a known “breed”. We all know that the legal system is not “foolproof”, and that sometimes somebody abuses of his prerogatives, but
this is not a reason to stop allowing a law enforcement entity to do its job by way of technical means.

Again, the actual point is whether the private interests of a company can overrule the State duty to seek for justice.

And even if Apple were right, this would make things worser, because it would means that we live in a society that we ourselves don’t trust enough. And if so it is, obviously the problem is neither Apple nor the Iphone encryption…

Apple vs FBI: A Disturbing Option (for Apple)

Although PGP is widely spread and used since 25 years, after the first, early complaints nobody heard a single hiss from the FBI and its siblings about the IOS-like “problems”. Maybe this is because of the open source license attached to PGP that allows whoever has enough brain, power and money to find ways to crack it. In the past, for instance, the FBI has been able to crack a Truecrypt password belonging to a suspect.

To balance people rights with the needs of the investigation, Apple might just go open source or, at least, disclose to the law enforcement community the IOS source code, thus allowing the “good guys” to develop long-term tools for forensic purposes.

Of course, to Apple, this is an absolutely nonviable option, nevertheless the point stays: should a government be entitled to access each and every source code of critical software?

To put it short, the Apple vs FBI quarrel involves the role of proprietary copyright and has about nothing to do with the “we protect our customer rights” claim.