A department of the US State Department dedicated to diplomatic security has reportedly procured a $15,000 (£10,500) Apple TV-sized device its manufacturers advertise as being able to break iPhone encryption in anywhere from two hours to three days.
Per Motherboard, public federal procurement documents show that the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security purchased a GrayKey encryption-breaking device from Grayshift, a firm which reportedly lists a former Apple engineer on staff.
The documents only identify the purchase as for “computer and computer peripheral equipment,” but Motherboard wrote that it had confirmed “the phone number of the vendor in both the purchase order and documents Motherboard previously obtained detailing a GrayKey purchase by Indiana State Police is the same.”
Parts of the US federal government, notably the FBI and the Department of Justice, have been clamouring for Apple and other software companies to build backdoors into their encryption technology on the dubious grounds it’s necessary to ensure criminals and terrorists can’t enjoy impregnable communications—even though any such backdoor could put the security of every single user who relies on that encryption for legitimate and legal security purposes at risk.
First revealed earlier this month in a report by MalwareBytes, the $15,000 GrayKey box may offer a workaround to authorities at a significantly cheaper and more efficient rate than the $5,000 (£3,500)-per-device rate reportedly quoted by Israeli competitor Cellebrite, which generally requires clients to mail them the phones in question.
GrayKey can allegedly crack an iPhone just by attaching it to one of two Lightning cables sticking out of the side and injecting some kind of program that eventually causes the affected iPhone to display its passcode.