Law enforcement has been struggling for years to find a way to unlock mobile devices used by suspects believed to be involved in criminal activities, with several officials, including FBI representatives, repeatedly calling for tech giants to step in and help break into password-protected devices.
The most famous case is the iPhone of the San Bernardino attacker, with the FBI publicly requesting Apple to unlock the device and help the investigators get past the passcode screen.
Apple refused to do so on national security claims, explaining that building such a backdoor would eventually compromise all of its devices, as the company said it would have been only a matter of time until such a solution landed in the wrong hands.
Since then, the police have been looking into all kinds of ways to access private data, and according to a report from The Intercept, the Customs and Border Protection officers have discovered one easy method to do the whole thing.
It all comes down to specially developed hardware kits created by a Swedish IT firm called MSAB and allowing the feds to connect to cars and extract the information that is typically passed along by smartphones during the sync process. In other words, all the data that your smartphone allows the car to read can be obtained by the police, including recent destinations and favorite locations, call logs, contact lists, SMS messages, emails, pictures, videos, and even social media feeds.
In plain English, if your car is able to access it, then so does a police investigator that connects to the vehicle using such a kit.
The worst thing is that carmakers have never tried to secure the connection to the car, pretty much because service centers need to be able to access certain diagnosis data in an effortless way. And of course, things are unlikely to change given the efforts that would be required for the whole thing.
A dedicated MSAB kit is said to cost more than $450,000, but for a government agency, that doesn’t mean much. Law enforcement says the kits are critical for certain criminal investigations that would require data extraction from the car and paired mobile phones.