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How the FBI hacked the San Bernadino iPhone.

Editorial Staff

Three weeks ago, three young recruits from the FBI's secretive high tech hacking unit sat in their bunker (it's a room above a dry-cleaner's in a side street in Falls Church but don't tell them we know) and pondered the issue of how to break into an iPhone. The FBI has a near-unlimited stock of the phones that they routinely confiscate from criminals but which don't qualify as evidence. And with each of them holding handfuls of the phones, they went to work and, much to the annoyance of the "establishment" that wanted to force Apple to give them access, these three tykes found access. Here's how they did it. Their names have been changed to protect the joke.

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BFF (Big Fat Fingers): I've a plan I'll bend the phone then hit the dude's date of birth and it won't know exactly what key I'm hitting so in frustration it will decide (Hey, I'm an Apple. My slogan is "it just works" and it will let me in.

SSK (Skinny Spotty Kid): Dude, no. First of all, Apple haven't use that slogan for years, not since they started making it so that "it just works but only if you are happy in our locked down garden." Second of all, if you bend an iPhone it breaks or goes on fire.

GGG (Geek Girl with Glasses): look, it's not that complicated to know what we can't do. We can't use anything that's going to take 11 or more tries to enter a password. If we do, it locks and the only people who can get into it are Apple. Allegedly.

SSK: Let's play Frisbee.

BFF: I want to do this

SSK:I mean let's play Frisbee with one of the phones and see if we can jar it into letting us in.

GGG: How's that going to work. Ah, Nah. Who gives a shit? Sure. It'll be fun.

[the each throw a phone across the room, landing flat on the hard floor, and skidding into a wall. They pick them up and turn them on.]

BFF: So?
GGG: cracked screen but I can still press and... no. And I've cut my finger.
BFF: Mine won't start.

GGG: does it have battery?
BFF: Oh, I didn't check that. [presses] No. The battery is dead. At least because it's an iPhone we know the battery is still in there.

GGG: we are overthinking this. Who gets locked out of their phones most?

BFF. Dudes in Denver?

GGG: I like your thinking, man. Let's see if that works.

[they all pick up their phones (leaving the cases behind in case someone thinks that several of them might be used to replicate a bomb vest) and go to Dulles and hop on a flight to Denver. It takes them less than an hour to celebrate the town's marketing slogan.]

GGG: I thought it used to mean having sex on a plane.

BFF: it did but the toilets are so tiny I'd have trouble having sex in there with myself.

SSK: bruised elbows and a red mark on your forehead from nutting the door. Thanks for that image. Now, are we ready? Let's try to break into a phone.

[they fumble, and giggle, and call a waiter to bring them snacks and lots of water]

SSK: I can't aim at the numbers. If I tried this I'd use up my ten tries 20 times a day. Apple would take the phone off me because I'm not fit to have one, a disgrace to the tribe.

GGG: I can't even hold it still enough to press the on-button. This isn't working.

BFF: I need a piss [he totters off]

GGG, what if we shocked it, just a little bit. Say 12 volts directly into the power socket.

SSK: it would blow up. I like your thinking. Hey man [he says, turning to a man at the next table] have you got a car?

Man: yes, but you're not having it.

SSK: Dude, no. No, Dude. We just want to hook this phone up to your battery.

Man: you mean you want to charge from my lighter socket

GGG: No, man. We want to give the phone a shock

[they both giggle]

Man: what do you think will happen?

SSK: we think it will spark, fly across the car park and burst into flames.

Man: cool. Let's do this.

BFF walks back into the room. He's talking on the phone.

SSK to Man : Hang on a minute. Here's my BFF. Dude: you are on the phone.

BFF: yeah. I wanted to make a call when I was answering a call. Of nature. [giggles]

SKK: So what did you do?

BFF: I just put in my PIN.

GGG: and how did that work? It's not your phone.

BFF looks at the phone carefully. It's still on.

SKK: Quick: disable the passcode. Take off all the security.

BFF stares at the phone.

GGG grabs it and starts to stab at the screen.

GGG: There. No more security. Exactly what did you do to it?

BFF: I had it in my hand. I went for a piss. I started to pee and almost fell over and I dropped it into the trough. I grabbed it quickly before it got too wet. Then I held it under the dryer until it got quite hot and I nearly dropped it again. I tell you dude, this standing up to piss thing isn't all its cracked up to be. I was Warholing all over the floor in there.

[GGG looks at him. A hard stare.]

SSK starts to laugh: You've been holding his piss covered phone. EEUUWW.

[GGG transfers her stare. ]

24 hours later, having been refused boarding at the first attempt due to their "inebriated state," the three are back above the dry cleaning shop where the building is shaking as the machines do their work.

[BFF: what if we tell them it was beer?]

GGG: Beer's sticky.

SKK: all soft drinks are sticky, too. And if they swab it they'll know it's not water.

GGG: So, I have to go to the Director of the FBI, tell him that we can break into the phone and all we have to do is get high, piss on it, overheat it and then stab any four numbers into it and it'll work.

BFF: I think we should test it on some more phones.

SKK: They took my stash away in the airport.

GGG: look, thousands of druggies might do this every week by accident but I'm pretty sure being out of their heads is not the reason they get into their phones.

BFF: I think it's a piss-poor excuse for security.

SKK: How does it know it's piss and not water. Or Colt 45. That's pre-processed piss.

GGG: We've got all these phones. We need proof of concept, then we need to test it over and over to prove the system is reliable.

[two days later, eyes red, they stumble onto the pavement outside the shop, disheveled and looking slightly mad. They jump into an Uber car and head for Pennsylvania Avenue. As the J Edgar Hoover Building comes into view, they look at each other.]

BFF: We could say we failed. No one expected us to do it anyway.

SKK: but we are legends. We are the people who've done jobs good, I mean good jobs. We are hacktorious.

GGG: Technically we didn't actually hack anything.

BFF: we just won a pissing contest with Apple.

[They got out of the car, laughing madly. They tried to explain to the guards why they have 25 sticky iPhones in a backpack but they saw the cases covered in an unidentifiable goo, shouted "bomb" and threw the back pack down nearby chute.]

[Later, in a dark room with no furniture and a man who said he was a "terrorist investigator" GGG tried to explain who they were. The interrogator didn't accept that his pals had just blown up her FBI credentials in a controlled explosion of 25 fully accessible iPhones that just happened to be in bag stinking of pee. ]

[A week later, their boss filed a missing person's report and the FBI swung into action because three of its own were missing. They found the cameras outside the dry cleaner's and through that traced the Uber driver who produced his records showing that they travelled directly to the J Edgar Hoover Building. External security cameras showed them walking in. Internal cameras showed the bag being thrown into the chute and the three of them being manhandled, non-too-gently, through a side door. It took another two days to find them in their secret cells, no record of their arrest or interrogation. ]

[They were taken to an office where they were offered coffee and asked why they had been arrested.]

GGG: Because we found out how by bypass iPhone security and no one would believe us.

[BFF saw an iPhone on the desk. He walked calmly towards it, and stood as if stretching in the light from the window. He dropped his zip, turned and peed all over the phone, the desk .. everywhere until he'd finished. ]

BKK: go and put this under the heater in the washroom then when it's so hot you are burning your hands, put in any four digits that aren't your own code.

SKK: Go now, before it dries.

GGG: you're lucky we didn't find crap works.

The following day the FBI withdrew its Applecation to force the company to access the phone's internal records.