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FBI failed to crack encryption on nearly 7,000 phones

FBI DIRECTOR Christopher Wray has claimed that unbreakable encryption poses a huge threat for international security and the fight against crime and terrorism. 

Wray, speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia on Sunday, says that in just 11-months, the FBI failed to gain access to nearly 7,000 smartphones. 

The cause of this widespread failure is the move from manufacturers to enable hardware encryption that secures all the content on a device. In essence, the encryption is working exactly as intended. 

It’s a tough position for both hardware makers and security agencies – people have a right to privacy and protecting their communications, but security agencies also have a need to protect the populous and to investigate criminal activity. It’s a balance that Wray acknowledged. 

“I get it, there’s a balance that needs to be struck between encryption and the importance of giving us the tools we need to keep the public safe,” Wray said, according to the BBC.  

What makes the situation even trickier is that even if device makers decided to completely remove encryption by default, third-party apps would still make it simple enough to achieve for users.

The comments by Wray aren’t entirely surprising – the FBI became embroiled in a high-profile case last year when it requested access to the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone 5C, but Apple refused to play ball

The FBI ultimately withdrew the request once it managed to secure access by other means. This year, following Freedom of Information requests, a judge ruled that the FBI doesn’t have to disclose how it gained access to the phone. 

Although device encryption is different from end-to-end encryption that secures communications in transit (rather than data on hardware) the latter has been called upon to be banned in the UK. 

Indeed, Home Secretary Amber Rudd misguidedly said in August this year that only terrorists require encryption. No doubt that’s an opinion that would change fairly swiftly if Rudd’s own communications were being routinely snooped upon. µ

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