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The saga of Robert Morgan's cellphone, Chapter 2: The pass code

The saga of Robert Morgan's cellphone continues.

In our last episode, the embattled Rochester developer – who faces a criminal indictment on mortgage and insurance fraud charges – had filed a motion in federal court seeking to have his iPhone returned to him. He claimed that prosecutors have held the phone since the May 2018 FBI raid that preceded the first set of charges, but that federal authorities have not done anything with it.

Not so, says the U.S. Attorney's Office. They just can't get in it. And that's despite consulting three different forensic labs – from the District of Columbia, the State Department and Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services – and two different software tools, according to the government's response.

That's because Morgan used a six-digit pass code – resulting in 1 million possible combinations – and a security feature that limits users from attempting to enter a pass code more than once every 20 to 40 minutes.

So the only option has been to "brute force" the gadget – by literally trying two to three randomly generated different number combinations every hour until they hit the jackpot. And that's what the feds have been doing for the past 19 months, hiring a company called Grayshift to use its "GrayKey" device, according to court filings.

To date, the government has unsuccessfully tried 39,474 potential codes. Only 960,526 to go.

"This has been a continuous effort since May 2018," wrote Thomas Germershausen, a special agent in the Federal Housing Finance Agency's Office of the Inspector General, in an affidavit filed with the court. "There is currently no way to know when the government will be able to access the Morgan iPhone."

So much for the long arm of the law. Anybody got a trained monkey?

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