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Why police departments are concerned about your iPhone's software updates

Posted: 6:52 AM, Dec 05, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-05 14:38:57Z

INDIANAPOLIS — In a constant battle to keep your private data secure, Apple is hitting back, keeping people out of your phone. But it’s bringing up a major issue for law enforcement in Indiana. 

When it comes to solving crimes, often a key piece of evidence is stored on a cellphone or a computer, and police are constantly trying to stay ahead of criminals. But as more people and tech giants are concerned about security, some of those new security features and encryption are stopping police from solving crimes. 

In 2015, Apple was in the spotlight after they refused to unlock an iPhone for the FBI after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. At the time, investigators said potential key clues of other possible terrorist attacks could be on the phone. Apple refused to help unlock the device. 

In the years since, a new device called GrayKey that law enforcement could use to crack iPhones was developed, and they've been using it ever since. 

"[GrayKey] can plug into iPhones that historically, in general, have what we call 'brute force' on them,” said Steve Beaty, a digital security expert.

The September release of Apple's latest operating system, iOS 12, shut down the ability for that special device to work. The result left investigators scrambling. 

“Apple's fighting these guys pretty hard, has been a bit of a chess game," Beaty said. 

The Indiana State Police and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department have the $15,000 GrayKey device. 

Both agencies say they only use the device as part of ongoing criminal investigations after a search warrant has been issued by a judge. But even with a warrant, Apple’s latest operating system for iPhones has shut down the ability for the GrayKey to work. 

Investigators are concerned that they won't be able to solve some crimes because they can't get key pieces of evidence off a new iPhone. 

"So for the time being, I don't see it being more than a chess game where there are going to be advances made on either side,” Beaty said. “And I don't think there's going to be a definitive ... ‘checkmate’ in the foreseeable future."

WRTV asked both ISP and IMPD if they have had any cases where the device hasn’t worked. Neither would discuss specifics of the GrayKey device.