FBI investigations often call for cracking into mobile devices without the owner's permission, but over 3,000 devices have managed to thwart the FBI's efforts to date this year. 3,000 doesn't sound like a lot on paper, but that number is about half of the total mobile devices that they tried to get into so far this year. Powerful device security is commonplace these days, but FBI Director James Comey wasn't looking to revive the "backdoor" debate. Instead, he said in a letter that the better alternative would be for device makers to work with the FBI and help them hack into otherwise secure devices.
Comey's suggestion seems safe enough, but if any of the work done to that end between the FBI and OEMs finds its way out onto the internet, the security hole used will have to be patched, and users will be in danger of hacking or data theft in the interim. While many devices in the wild are already vulnerable in many ways, it may take a great deal of work to crack newer devices. Android phones and iPhones both feature powerful encryption and security administered on a fix-by-fix basis and delivered in ongoing patches, making them fairly secure. Still, vulnerabilities do slip through; one example is a recent sampling of apps from the Play Store wherein hundreds of apps were found to have vulnerabilities that left ports open and allowed malicious code execution.
Mobile device security is great for consumers wanting to keep their data out of the wrong hands, but it can prove to be troublesome for law enforcement. Recent cases in San Bernardino, California and Paris, France highlight the possible benefits of law enforcement agencies being able to extract data from mobile devices involved in criminal cases. For time time being, the bottom line seems to be that nobody can find a realistic and reliable way to allow entities like the FBI to access user data when authorized without opening the door to agents whose intentions are a bit less honorable. Until this state of affairs changes, the debate is unlikely to make any meaningful progress. There are also individuals like Edward Snowden standing as an X factor of sorts, who insist that nobody should have access to a user's data except that user, without the user's permission.