Late last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that its investigators were unable to crack 7,800 encrypted phones. A new report shows that the number was overestimated by a large margin.
According to The Washington Post, the real number of truly unhackable phones is around 2,000. The Post cited the FBI’s internal records offered by people familiar with the matter. The sources were not identified in the report.
The sources cited “programming errors” for the overestimate. The FBI reportedly has three separate databases for mobile devices, so the data overlapped and made investigators count a device multiple times.
However, experts noted that the error is so elementary that it is surprising that the FBI could have done it. Each mobile device has a unique serial number along with its name, so it is very hard to count the same device several times.
It is also surprising that no one at the FBI had the idea of checking the results to see if there were any duplicates. This hints at either incompetence or a conspiracy. The initial numbers were given to the bureau’s chief when testifying before Congress.
FBI Not Very Good At Assessing Its Own Resources
Experts believe that the FBI’s incompetence may be at fault. The Office of the Inspector General found that the bureau has a hard time with tapping its own resources. This may be why it failed to hire hackers to crack suspects’ phones and instead forced Apple into doing it in court.
The FBI withdrew the case after a terrorist’s iPhone was finally cracked. In other words, the agency downplayed its own hacking capabilities in the case, with the plan in mind of vilifying encryption in public.
The FBI is one of the many federal agencies that have been pushing for a backdoor to encryption for law enforcement. Apple is one of the few tech giants that withstood such pressures, arguing that other users’ privacy is more important.
Meanwhile, an audit will determine how many of FBI’s phones are truly unhackable.
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