FBI Admits It Inflated the Number of iPhones It Can’t Hack

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The Bureau says there are fewer protected iPhones. The FBI has long been one of the main parties asking for backdoors in smartphones, explaining on several occasions through the voice of Director Christopher Wray that unlocking devices involved in criminal or terrorist investigations wasn’t possible because of strong encryption.

More recently, Wray, who himself lobbied for regulations that would force smartphone manufacturers to embed backdoors into their devices, explained that the FBI had no less than 7,775 locked phones that it couldn’t hack, all of them related to illegal activities that it was investigating.

Wray used this number as a catalyst for pursuing the use of backdoors for the government, always pointing out that these devices might hold key evidence that could help in the fight against criminals.

But as it turns out, this number was incorrect, and the agency acknowledged in a statement for The Washington Post that there are actually significantly fewer iPhones that it cannot unlock. Inflating the number happened after counting the same devices twice or even more, it said.

“The FBI’s initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,” the agency confirmed.

Fewer unhackable iPhones

While at this point it’s not clear how many devices the agency cannot hack, the cited source says the actual number is between 1000 and 2000.

Despite the counting error, the FBI still says that backdoors could be a way to deal with encrypted phones, citing the same reasons as before and explaining that it’s looking for a solution to help prevent similar cases in the future.

“Going Dark remains a serious problem for the FBI, as well as other federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners. The FBI will continue pursuing a solution that ensures law enforcement can access evidence of criminal activity with appropriate legal authority,” the bureau said.

Neither Apple nor other phone makers commented on this report, but Cupertino has always opposed FBI’s requests for encryption backdoors.