• New tool claims it can crack into millions of locked phones

    By: Karla Ray

    Updated:

    9 Investigates uncovered local law enforcement agencies have invested in a tool that promises to crack the lock code on almost any older iPhone.

    It’s called GrayKey, and though officers need a search warrant to use it, investigative reporter Karla Ray learned the technology is raising concerns about just how secure the devices are that you use every day.

    There’s a good chance you’re reading this story on your phone right now.  Our smartphones have all but become an extension of our arms.  But what some keep private, could be the key to solving certain crimes.


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    “We have to keep pace with society, and technology today,” Capt. Stephen Garrison with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.

    9 Investigates learned both the Orange and Seminole County counties' sheriff’s offices have invested in the GrayKey technology.  The device costs $15,000, and the manufacturer promises it will be able to break in to older, locked iPhones, if agents have a warrant.

    “As with all our tools, we're looking for anything that would help us solve a crime, bring a criminal to justice,” Garrison said.

    Garrison wrote a memo detailing the need for the GrayKey last March, noting that OCSO had over 75 Apple devices that were locked and inaccessible.  That included 17 phones involved in homicides, and seven involved in sex crimes cases.

    Read: 9 investigates ongoing 911 dispatch center problems

    In the first six months of owning the technology, Orange County used GrayKey nearly 200 times.  So far, Garrison says it has not been the key to solving a case, but every clue counts.

    “Just by us having it in-house, being able to do phones on our time frame, is a fixed cost that never changes,” Garrison said.

    The technology can only be purchased by law enforcement agencies.  Seminole County Sheriff’s Office agents have used GrayKey as well to unlock phones during death investigations, and in one case, it was used to access a phone believed to contain child pornography.

    Valencia College Digital Forensics professor Doug Rehman says the GrayKey simply tries passcodes over and over until the right combination is found.

    Rehman is a former FDLE cybercrimes agent, and he says though GrayKey is an important law enforcement tool, similar technology could be created for the wrong purpose.

    “Information wants to be free.  Once somebody comes up with a break, it generally doesn't become tremendously long before it makes its way into the hacker community,” Rehman said.

    9 Investigates asked for the same records of use from Orlando Police, and the city’s legal department is still working on the request.

    Apple’s newer iPhones are not able to be unlocked by GrayKey, and iOS updates for older phones limit the time that police have to test codes to unlock the phones.

    9 Investigates also reached out to the makers of GrayKey for comment on this story, but never heard back.

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