The Company Famous for Hacking iPhones Is Coming After Our Macs

There’s always the chance that these tools and services could fall into the wrong hands.
MacBook Checking Gmail Credit: Jay Wennington
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Israeli smartphone forensics firm Cellebrite has announced the acquisition of BlackBag Technologies, a similar firm focused on computers, Reuters reports.

What that means essentially is that the company notorious for hacking into iPhones may soon add Mac-focused capabilities to its services.

Back in 2016, Apple famously refused to help the FBI break into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters. The Bureau eventually gained access to the device without Apple’s assistance.

But while it isn’t clear how the FBI did it, Cellebrite is largely thought to be the firm that helped, reportedly receiving $900,000 to crack the encryption on the shooter’s iPhone 5c.

The Israel-based firm offers a suite of “digital intelligence services” to government, law enforcement and enterprise customers.

Mostly, that focuses on mobile forensics. Or, in other words, tools that can unlock encrypted iPhones and other smartphones. Back in June, Cellebrite said it could unlock any iOS device, including those running the then-latest software version.

Cellebrite is just one of the many companies engaged in a seemingly endless cat-and-mouse game with tech companies that Apple. When iPhone security researchers find or develop exploits to break into iPhones, Apple patches them. After that, the cycle continues.

BlackBag Technologies’ Acquisition

In its press release on Wednesday, Cellebrite said it acquired BlackBag Technologies to the tune of $33 million, funded in part by an investment from Israeli Growth Partners.

While the goal, in Cellebrite’s words, is to “accelerate the delivery of new Digital Intelligence solutions,” it’s clear that BlackBag’s acquisition will help the company develop forensic tools for computers.

Part of BlackBag’s security research includes breaking into both desktop Macs and MacBooks. It even has a tool called MacQuisition that it says can carry out live data acquisition and forensic imaging of Mac devices.

Importantly, BlackBag says that MacQuisition is the only tool on the market capable of extracting data from Mac devices equipped with Apple’s T2 security and encryption chip.

What This Means for You

As we’ve mentioned previously, the average iPhone or Mac user probably doesn’t have much to fear from hacking tools developed by Cellebrite and other digital firms.

Aside from government overreach, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be used to extract data from your own devices unless you’ve committed a crime.

With that being said, there’s always the chance that these tools and services can fall into the wrong hands. In fact, it’s happened quite a few times in the past.

A Forbes investigation last year found that Cellebrite tools were being resold on eBay for as little as $100. And Cellebrite itself has been the victim of a breach that ended up leaking their iPhone hacking tools.

And for the average user, their Mac may hold much more sensitive data than their iPhone or iPad. While Apple will probably work to patch these vulnerabilities, Cellebrite’s acquisition of BlackBag is something to be aware of going forward.

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