Mobile devices are the latest front in the techno-war between cops and internet predators, according to police officers who work in Canadian child exploitation units.
“Mobile phones represent everything a person would want in a device,” said Det. Const. Joel Bautista, a Saskatoon police officer who also works with the province’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit. “The majority of our offenders are using mobile handsets.”
Offenders love iPhones, according to Bautista, because on a strictly practical level, they’re a mobile porn Fort Knox. They represent some of the most highly advanced communication technology, while being relatively easy to use but challenging to crack into — and the company making them tends to protect its customers’ privacy.
Cracking the code
Apple’s mobile devices offer four- or six-digit password combinations, depending on the age of the phone. That’s between 10,000 and one million possible combinations.
With the brute computing power available to police IT departments, that in itself would not be an insurmountable challenge. Police systems can run upwards of 100,000 possible password combinations per second, churning away for days, weeks and months.
But there’s a catch.
When an iPhone is locked, a user gets 10 tries at the combination. After the tenth unsuccessful try, erasing all of the data on the phone becomes an option.
Sgt. Stephen Camp, who heads Alberta’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit, said that the mobile devices pose challenges to investigators around the world.
“For the small percentage of people involved in criminality, including the egregious offences of child rape, this would be a great tool to have,” he said.
Bautista said this shift by predators to mobile devices is about five years in the making.
The key is the “robust” encryption offered by the handheld devices. This is not an elaborate software package that a user needs to download, install and maintain — it’s how they come out of the box.
It used to be that a predator would have to have some basic computer skills to start downloading porn and stay under the radar. They’d have to know how their machine worked, find the right software, load it onto the computer and keep it updated.
On an iPhone, this is all automatic. And although Apple may be setting the encryption standard, Bautista said Android…