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Sam Bankman-Fried’s Legal Team Can’t Figure Out How to Install Spyware on His Parents’ Smartphones

It turns out that putting spyware on smartphones is more difficult than it appears. Lawyers representing Sam Bankman-Fried stated that they had experienced unforeseen problems while seeking to comply with the court’s particular bail requirements. The problem is that he installed software on his parents’ smartphones that took images of the user every five minutes to monitor who was using them continually.

“We recently learned that the monitoring software installed on the new cellphones we purchased for Mr Bankman-Fried’s parents cannot, in fact, automatically photograph the device’s user every five minutes, as required by the order,” attorneys Mark Cohen and Christian Everdell wrote.

While the type of the phones used was not given, current smartphones, such as iPhones running iOS, and Google Android, and handsets running privacy-focused operating systems such as GrapheneOS, have improved their security mechanisms, including app sandboxing.

Sandboxing is a security approach in mobile phones that isolates apps in a limited environment, safeguarding the device’s operating system and other data from potential harm. It establishes a “safe zone” for apps, reducing the impact of harmful software or vulnerabilities.

In addition, Apple released a new lockdown mode for iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura in October. The optional security feature is intended for users vulnerable to advanced digital threats. It restricts device functionality (such as online surfing restrictions and barring inbound FaceTime calls) to reduce spyware exposure.

“If they wanted to do this, they could either force the use of a [Android-based] device and use a rootkit to install a custom app, or develop an app that complies with Apple’s App Store terms and conditions,” Halborn co-founder and CTO Steven Walbroehl told Decrypt. “Alternatively, they can jailbreak the device and bypass the operating system’s restrictions.”

While not illegal, jailbreaking violates Apple’s terms of service and renders any warranties null and void. The defense claimed it is looking at “alternative solutions” to monitor Bankman-Fried’s parents’ cell phones, as required by the ruling. “It’s not illegal to jailbreak a phone,” stated Walbroehl. “The Digital Copyright Act of 2010 gives users the right to root their phones, but they are legally responsible for adhering to copyright laws regarding what they put on it.”

SBF’s legal team has asked an extension until Friday, April 21, 2023, in a letter to presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan.  The defense has requested a third extension since the initial order on March 28, 2023; prior extensions were granted on April 4 and April 11. Judge Kaplan granted the request, and Bankman-Fried’s counsel have asked that his parents continue to use their existing cell phones until a solution is reached.

“We are optimistic that we have found a solution, but we need until the end of this week to conduct further tests on the monitoring software to confirm its capabilities,” the attorneys reported.


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