CEO of Firm that modified Blackberry, Samsung phones to ‘knowingly’ help drug cartels evade police is indicted

Two recent news stories regarding cellphone technology relate to personal privacy rights.

First, Phantom Secure is a company that sells modified BlackBerry and Samsung phones, has been accused of “knowingly” selling products to drug gangs in order to help them evade law enforcement. Vincent Ramos, CEO of the company along with four associates have been indicted. This is the first time the US government has targeted a firm on such charges.

Fully-encrypted devices has been a contentious topic, as state legislators in California and New York have proposed bans (objected to by US congressmen). Consider the difference between a state ban vs. a national ban: under a state ban, ordinary law-abiding citizens may be subject to greater privacy loss than those motivated criminals who may cross a border to secure an encrypted phone.

What amount of privacy can we expect when using our phones? For US citizens, it may be a bit more alarming, after FBI Director Chris Wray stated, without evidence, that it wasn’t impossible to create weakened encryption that isn’t weakened (see third link). By weakening everyone’s encryption, criminals accessing our phones (with their own secure phones) can evade detection. It’s making the public less safe, simply to provide the FBI the access they want.


Second, a mysterious ‘Graykey’ service promises to unlock iPhone X for the Feds. In recent weeks, its marketing materials have been disseminated around private online police and forensics groups, offering a $15,000 iPhone unlock tool named GrayKey, which permits 300 uses. That’s for the online mode that requires constant connectivity at the customer end, whilst an offline version costs $30,000. The latter comes with unlimited uses.

According to public records, Indiana State Police have ordered the $15,000 device.

An interesting tidbit: “[Graykey’s] founding came in the wake of the battle between Apple and the FBI in San Bernardino, where the feds ordered the Cupertino giant to unlock the iPhone of terrorist shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, a request the iDevice manufacturer vehemently protested. The FBI eventually paid an unknown contractor in the region of $1 million to hack into the device.”


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