Switching iPhones into a DFU (Device Firmware Update) mode is a hassle. Power off, press that and hold those that many seconds, release this but continue holding that until hopefully something happens on the phone. Many iPhone users have major troubles switching their iPhones into DFU mode. Luckily for them, they don’t have to do the Apple Dance too often.
Criminal investigators, police officers and workers of the intelligence are not as lucky. They have dozens of iPhones to process every day, hundreds every week. “When I get an iPhone, I only have two hours”, says a police officer who’s name we cannot disclose. “In 120 minutes, I have to acquire and process information from that phone. Honestly, I can rarely complete it in a proper way.”
Here at ElcomSoft, we’re trying to do everything to make the life of investigators easier. Performing a physical acquisition with EIFT, which is the only proper way to capture everything in the phone, only takes 20 to 40 minutes depending on the model. But here comes another pitfall. Unlike pickpockets and fraudsters with long, thin fingers, police officers have big hands and firm, strong fingers. Performing the Apple Dance is extremely frustrating and almost physically painful. “I have to try and try before I can twist my fingers to hold those damn buttons”, confesses another police officer. “These damn things are too small and slick”.
Visiting the EuroForensics conference a few days ago, I was demonstrating how easy it was to switch an iPhone into DFU mode. I did it right the first time, but on a second try I failed miserably. “I’m too old for this shtuff”, commented yet another visitor whose badge simply read “Special Agent”.
I passed my concerns to ElcomSoft R&D department, and they built a mockup of an ingenious device automating this sort of things. They called it “iOS DFU Mode Starter”. As a first mockup, it’s not yet perfect. It requires careful placement of the device, and you have to plug a USB cable by hand. Other than that, iOS DFU Mode Starter can switch the device into Debug Firmware Update mode with 100% reliability. “It’s almost infallible”, says Andrey Belenko, ElcomSoft leading researcher. “And it was incredible fun to build”.
Here’s a video demonstrating how the new device works:
I was shocked at first when I saw the robot. A LEGO? Are you guys kidding me? It turned out our R&D guys were serious as ever. Here’s what Andrey Belenko has to say about this robot.
“Constructing mockups and early prototypes with LEGO bricks is commonplace for building robots. Honestly, LEGO blocks are a godsend to all robot builders. Don’t be fooled with the look of the thing; these bricks are a serious prototyping tool.”
“LEGO bricks hold together amazingly well under low and medium load. LEGO blocks come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes. They give a tight fit, they are reusable, and they save us a lot of time when prototyping. We’re not building an industrial piece; this robot simply handles a modern electronic device. No force is required.”
Whether or not this device goes into production, and what the price is going to be like if it does is yet to be determined.