Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Fresh water scarcity will be a thing of the past

April 4, 2017

There is no shortage of water on earth. There is not even a shortage of fresh water resources. However there is a fundamental mismatch between the availability of fresh water and the centres of population. If sea water (or brackish water) can be converted into fresh water at an acceptable energy and economic cost, the problem vanishes.

Excluding the vast amounts of water bound up within rocks in the earth’s core, the fresh water on earth is less than 1% of all the “free” water. (Note also that when humans consume water, the water is not destroyed. Most of it is discharged somewhat contaminated and a small amount is bound up as hydrocarbons. Water “manufactured” by combustion – whether induced by humans or by natural combustion processes – creates water vapour from bound-up hydrogen but the quantities are not very significant).

The UN estimates that by 2025 up to 15% of the world’s population may be subject to fresh water scarcity. Techniques for conversion of sea water into drinking water have been known for at least 3,000  years (and perhaps even 5,000 years). But desalination as an industrial process for providing fresh water to large populations only started in any significant way in the 1960s and started showing high growth rates from the 1990s on.  There are two basic paths to obtaining fresh water from sea water. Through evaporation followed by condensation (multi-stage flash – MSF) or by filtration (reverse osmosis -RO). Whether as heat for evaporation or pumping energy through semi-permeable membranes, the energy requirements (and cost) have been relatively high. Costs have reduced sharply over the last 30 years and currently the lowest cost of production is at less than $0.5/m3. Note, however, that costs of distribution are in addition to the production cost. The world’s population using desalinated water today is fast approaching 1% (perhaps about 500 million people today). But the growth rate here is currently above 5%/year.

For water scarcity to disappear as a potential problem, the cost to access the water (prior to distribution) needs to be less than about 50% of the cost of distribution. For that situation to arise, current desalination costs have to reduce by a factor of about 20 (production cost < $0.02/m3). It seems unlikely that such a cost reduction can be achieved along the evaporation/condensation path. The filtration path remains the best bet but would require

  1. a sharp reduction of the pressure drop across the filtration membrane, and
  2. a reduction in the cost of the membrane, and
  3. developments in the economic handling or treating of large amounts of the salts and minerals filtered out

The rate of development suggests that it is quite probable that such an advance in filtration technology can be achieved over the next 10 – 20 years. The advent of graphene and the use of graphene oxides to create nano-filters is one path which shows great promise.

 Tunable sieving of ions using graphene oxide membranes, Jijo Abraham et al, Nature Nanotechnology (2017), doi:10.1038/nnano.2017.21

BBC: A UK-based team of researchers has created a graphene-based sieve capable of removing salt from seawater. The sought-after development could aid the millions of people without ready access to clean drinking water. The promising graphene oxide sieve could be highly efficient at filtering salts, and will now be tested against existing desalination membranes.

It has previously been difficult to manufacture graphene-based barriers on an industrial scale. Reporting their results in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists from the University of Manchester, led by Dr Rahul Nair, shows how they solved some of the challenges by using a chemical derivative called graphene oxide.

Isolated and characterised by a University of Manchester-led team in 2004, graphene comprises a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Its unusual properties, such as extraordinary tensile strength and electrical conductivity, have earmarked it as one of the most promising materials for future applications. But it has been difficult to produce large quantities of single-layer graphene using existing methods, such as chemical vapour deposition (CVD). Current production routes are also quite costly.

On the other hand, said Dr Nair, “graphene oxide can be produced by simple oxidation in the lab”. He told BBC News: “As an ink or solution, we can compose it on a substrate or porous material. Then we can use it as a membrane. “In terms of scalability and the cost of the material, graphene oxide has a potential advantage over single-layered graphene.”

By 2100 global population will be declining almost everywhere. The water scarcity problem will be solved long before the population pressure reduces the demand for fresh water.


 

Update: ESA’s Schiaparelli destroyed by 300km/h impact

October 21, 2016

ESA has now confirmed that pictures from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter now show that Schiaparelli was destroyed on impact.

ESA:

Schiaparelli entered the martian atmosphere at 14:42 GMT on 19 October for its 6-minute descent to the surface, but contact was lost shortly before expected touchdown. …..  

……. Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometres, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 km/h. The relatively large size of the feature would then arise from disturbed surface material. It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full. These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis.

Reuters:

Images taken by a NASA Mars orbiter indicate that a missing European space probe was destroyed on impact after plummeting to the surface of the Red Planet from a height of 2-4 km (1.2 to 2.5 miles), the European Space Agency said on Friday.

The disc-shaped, 577-kg (1,272 lb) Schiaparelli probe, part of the Russian-European ExoMars program to search for evidence of life on Mars, descended on Wednesday to test technologies for a rover that scientists hope to send to the surface of the planet in 2020.

But contact with the vehicle was lost around 50 seconds before the expected landing time, leaving its fate uncertain until the NASA images were received.

“Schiaparelli reached the ground with a velocity that was much higher than it should have been, several hundred kilometers per hour, and was then unfortunately destroyed by the impact,” ExoMars Flight Director Michel Denis told Reuters TV.

It was only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars, after a failed mission by the British landing craft Beagle 2 in 2003.

The U.S. space agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the planet for about 10 years, took low-resolution pictures that show a bright spot that ESA believes is the 12-metre parachute that Schiaparelli used to slow down. They also show a fuzzy dark patch, around 15 by 40 meters in size, about 1 km north of the parachute, which scientists interpret as having been created by the impact of the lander following a longer-than-planned free fall.

The ESA/NASA  plan to put a rover on Mars by 2021 (ExoMars Rover) is likely to be delayed considerably. NASA is also looking at another project to launch in 2020 and land a rover on Mars perhaps in 2022.

The Indian/Russian plan with Chandrayan 2 to put a lunar rover onto the moon is still on the cards for 2019.


 

Second European Mars lander (Schiaparelli) also lost (after Beagle 2 in 2003)

October 20, 2016

While the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter by the European/Russian space agencies (ESA/Roscosmos) seems to have successfully entered the correct orbit around Mars, ESA’s Mars lander, Schiaparelli seems to have been lost on its way down to the surface.

schiaparelli-descent image-esa

schiaparelli-descent image-esa

BBC: 

There are growing fears a European probe that attempted to land on Mars on Wednesday has been lost. Tracking of the Schiaparelli robot’s radio signals was dropped less than a minute before it was expected to touch down on the Red Planet’s surface.

Satellites at Mars have attempted to shed light on the probe’s status, so far without success. One American satellite even called out to Schiaparelli to try to get it to respond. The fear will be that the robot has crashed and been destroyed. The European Space Agency, however, is a long way from formally calling that outcome. Its engineers will be running through “fault trees” seeking to figure out why communication was lost and what they can do next to retrieve the situation.

This approach could well last several days. 

One key insight will come from Schiaparelli’s “mothership” – the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). As Schiaparelli was heading down to the surface, the TGO was putting itself in a parking ellipse around Mars. But it was also receiving telemetry from the descending robot.

If the lander is indeed lost, it will be the second failure of a European Mars lander after the failure of Beagle 2 in 2003.

Beagle 2 was a British landing spacecraft that formed part of the European Space Agency’s 2003 Mars Express mission. The craft lost contact with Earth during its final descent and its fate was unknown for over twelve years. Beagle 2 is named after HMS Beagle, the ship used by Charles Darwin.

The spacecraft was successfully deployed from the Mars Express on 19 December 2003 and was scheduled to land on the surface of Mars on 25 December; however, no contact was received at the expected time of landing on Mars, with the ESA declaring the mission lost in February 2004, after numerous attempts to contact the spacecraft were made.

Beagle 2‘s fate remained a mystery until January 2015, when it was located intact on the surface of Mars in a series of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera. The images suggest that two of the spacecraft’s four solar panels failed to deploy, blocking the spacecraft’s communications antenna.

The ESA’s plans and budget for landing a six-wheeled roving vehicle on Mars in 2021 will face further critical scrutiny. The rover is expected “to use some of the same technology as Schiaparelli, including its doppler radar to sense the distance to the surface on descent, and its guidance, navigation and control algorithms”.

ESA has an annual budget of about €5.25 billion.

Of course the EU sees the ESA as a matter of prestige first (and science, only second) which does help to protect the budget.

Perhaps some “frugal engineering” (a la ISRO) is called for.


 

Thermal efficiency and “emissions elsewhere” from electric cars

August 30, 2016

All electric cars shift emissions from the exhaust pipe of the vehicle to the place where the electricity is generated. The actual mix of fuel sources used to feed the grid then represent the emissions profile of electric cars. The efficiency of electric cars from generation of electricity to wheel-power is not much different from gasoline based automobiles and clearly inferior to diesel engines.

Fossil fuels used directly in vehicle internal combustion engines have a thermal efficiency ranging from 37% for gasoline to over 55% for very large marine diesels.

source JSME

source JSME

For electricity generation the thermal efficiency varies from less than 30% to over 60% for coal, oil, gas, solar thermal or nuclear power plants. Thermal efficiency is meaningless (and undefined) for hydropower, wind power or photovoltaic solar.

thermal efficiency of power generation

An electric car being charged from the grid does so after a further 10% of transmission and distribution losses but only accrues a further 2 – 5% losses through the motor(s) to shaft rotation. (There are further mechanical losses in getting to the rotation of the wheels but these are common to all kinds of motive power).

The emissions due to the use of an electric car are entirely dependant upon the emissions involved in the generation of the charging electricity. If the grid is largely dependant upon coal (India), or coal and gas (US) then the gaseous emissions are higher than for diesel engines but slightly better than for gasoline automobiles. If, the grid is primarily hydropower as in Norway, or primarily hydro and nuclear (as in Sweden) then there are virtually no emissions from electric vehicles.

The fundamental reality is that electric cars are not yet commercially viable (range, weight, charging time and cost). Two decades of subsidies also confirms for me my contention, that subsidies are usually counter-productive, always delay commercialisation and nearly always lead to a focus on milking subsidies rather than commercialising a technology.

A recent Forbes article addresses the fantasies surrounding emissions, and Tesla cars. I wouldn’t mind owning a Tesla car where my acquisition price is heavily subsidised. But now that the initial investors have milked the subsidies, and operations – in spite of the subsidies – have yet to show a profit, I would not invest in Tesla shares.

Earlier this summer, SolarCity, Elon Musk’s rooftop solar company, appeared to be headed toward bankruptcy. So it shocked investors everywhere when Musk’s other brainchild, Tesla Motors TSLA -2.21%, itself struggling, announced plans to acquire the struggling panel maker and installer.

“Tesla Talks Big, Falls Short,” read a headline last week on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The subtitle: “Car maker has failed to meet more than 20 of CEO Elon Musk’s projections in the past five years.”

Surely combining two wrong businesses won’t make a right one. True, they’re both politically correct. But they’re economically incorrect.

Tesla’s operating losses, along with its fishy accounting practices and unrealistic investor promises, have led Devonshire Research Group to liken the car company’s business model to Enron’s.

Bad entrepreneurship is normally punished by market losses and contraction. But Musk’s market is rigged. A mountain of taxpayer subsidies is allowing Tesla’s bad show to go on — and even expand.

Musk’s various ventures have received almost $5 billion worth of government assistance. Nevada recently chimed in with $1.3 billion to incentivize Tesla to build its “gigafactory” — a new battery producing facility — near Reno. Each car sold by Tesla receives a federal income tax credit of $7,500. And California allows an additional $2,500 rebate to its citizens.

Even the White House is throwing cash Musk’s way. President Obama just announced $4.5 billion in loan guarantees for electric vehicle entrepreneurs. According to the president, the money will help fill garages with EVs and make charging stations ubiquitous.

Tesla is redefining “too big to fail” as “politically correct, so bail.”

….. 

So-called zero-emission vehicles reflect the fuel-profile of electricity generation. 2015 U.S. electricity generation consisted of 33% coal; 33% natural gas; 20% nuclear; 13% renewables; and 1% oil.

Fossil fuels, in other words, have a two-thirds market share for EVs, wind and solar just 5%. Nuclear power, hydropower, and biomass, account for the remainder. …..

…..

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertbradley/2016/08/24/investors-confront-teslas-energy-fantasy/2/#78d77bfa2bbe


 

A flying boat or a swimming aircraft? China rolls out the AG600

July 25, 2016

China unveils AG600 – Peoples Daily

AVIC TA-600, Flying boat
The AVIC TA-600, also known as AG-600, is a large amphibious flying boat that is being designed and built in China by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China.  
Top speed: 570 km/h, Wingspan: 40 m, Length: 40 m Maximum take-off weight 51.5 t.
Manufacturer: Aviation Industry Corporation of China Wikipedia
AG600 - AVIC
China has just rolled out the world’s largest amphibious plane, AVIC’s TA600 designated the AG600.  The AG600 is intended
to fight forest fires and be used for maritime search and rescue (SAR) operations. Being able to land on water means that they can quickly pump in tons of water to fight forest fires. For SAR purposes, the ability of large seaplanes like the TA-600 to land directly near survivors means more rapid rescue responses compared to slower helicopters, which will be attractive to Chinese maritime enforcement agencies. Perhaps most important to current regional tensions, the TA-600 may also offer a new scale and means to rapidly deploy or resupply any current or new remote island garrisons in the South China Sea. A number of islets and reefs are too small to have runways to accommodate conventional transport planes like the Y-8, but sited so as to have strategic value.
It is not as large as the eight-engined Howard Hughes H-4 “Spruce Goose”, the largest seaplane ever built, which weighed 180 tons in full and had a wingspan of 97 meters. But the Spruce Goose only flew a short distance on its maiden flight in 1947 and never lifted again.
But more to the point, the AG 600 can carry 50 passengers whether people being rescued, or troops on the move to a South China Sea island. Certainly the AG600 adds significant strategic capability to the Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 LA Times.

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 LA Times.


 

Hot air balloon does in 11 days and 6 hours what Solar Impulse 2 may do in 17 months

July 23, 2016

Solar Impulse 2 set off on its journey around the world on 9th March 2015. Tomorrow it sets off on its last leg from Cairo to Abu Dhabi and it should complete its journey in just under 17 months.

In the meantime, it is reported that Steve Fossett’s record of 13 days and 8 hours to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon, set in 2002 has been broken. A Russian balloonist has completed the journey in 11 days and 6 hours. Fedor Konyukhov has been using a Cameron balloon and set off on 12th July.

Flyer: Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov has set off on a solo round-the-world flight in a balloon, aiming to beat Steve Fossett’s 14-year-old record for the 33,000 kilometre trip.

Konyukhov set off from Northam, Western Australia yesterday – the same place Steve Fossett set off from in July 2002. The record stands at 13 days 8 hours 33 minutes. Konyukhov is hoping to beat the record by a substantial amount using up-to-date technologies. He is, however, using a very similar balloon – a Roziere 550 built by British company Cameron Balloons.

“Nobody in the world makes better balloons that the Brits,” said Konyukhov, “so our balloon is being made by Cameron Balloons and it will fly on Russian helium.”

balloon australia

Fox News:

An official says a Russian balloonist has claimed a new 11-day round the world record. Support crew member Steve Griffin says Fedor Konyukhov’s balloon on Saturday passed directly over the airfield at the Australian town of Northam where he began his journey on July 12.

American Steve Fossett also started from Northam to set a record of 13 days and eight hours for his 33,000-kilometer (21,000-mile) journey in 2002.

Konyukhov has taken roughly 11 days and six hours. …… Konyukhov is expected to land later Saturday.

Cameron balloon

Structure of the Cameron balloon image via Flyer.co.uk


 

New exploration technique finds massive Helium reserve in Tanzania

June 28, 2016

The dwindling availability of helium and because it is so scarce in the earth’s atmosphere has led to conceptual plans – if not yet projects – for the extraction of Helium from the lunar topsoil.

Helium(4He) is the second most abundant element in the known Universe (after hydrogen) but only makes up 5.2 parts per million (ppm) of the Earth’s atmosphere. Helium-3 (3He) is an isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. It is not radioactive and very rare on Earth (7 parts per trillion) but exists in recoverable concentrations in the lunar topsoil (in the top 2 -3 m of lunar regolith). It is even more abundant on the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

But a new exploration technique has been used to find old helium, trapped in ancient rocks underground, which after being released by volcanic activity, moves into shallower gas fields closer to the surface. Earth scientists from Oxford and Durham universities working together with Norwegian helium exploration company Helium One have found a vast reserve of Helium underground at the Rukwa Basin in the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley.

Helium One has applied for and secured 20 Prospecting Licences with a further two applications submitted. All licences are held 100% by the Company, have exclusive rights for helium and can be renewed for up to 9 years.

Within the portfolio are 3 distinct project areas, these are referred to as Rukwa, Eyasi and Balangida. All contain known helium occurrences with concentrations ranging between 2.5% – 10.5% helium and demonstrate the ideal geological conditions for large gas accumulations to be present.

Rukwa Basin – map Helium One

Helium One estimates a “Prospective Recoverable Helium Resource (P50) of 54.2 billion standard cubic feet. This resource occurs in 27 leads, defined by 2D seismic and is supported by data from two legacy exploration wells.”

ScienceAlert writes:

The find – estimated to be nearly seven times the total amount of helium consumed globally every year – will help allay concerns over Earth’s dwindling known supplies of the natural resource, which is crucial for things like MRI scanners, nuclear energy, and detecting industrial leaks.

…. Earth scientists from Oxford and Durham universities worked together with Norwegian helium exploration company Helium One in the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley. …. “We show that volcanoes in the Rift play an important role in the formation of viable helium reserves,” said researcher Diveena Danabalan from Durham University. “Volcanic activity likely provides the heat necessary to release the helium accumulated in ancient crustal rocks.”

But while the volcanoes help to free the trapped helium, depending on their proximity to the gas reserves, they can also end up wasting the precious element. …

…. “[I]ndependent experts have calculated a probable resource of 54 Billion Cubic Feet (BCf) (1.5 billion cubic metres) in just one part of the Rift Valley,” said Oxford University’s Chris Ballentine. “This is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners.”

“To put this discovery into perspective,” he added, “global consumption of helium is about 8 BCf per year (226 million cubic metres) and the United States Federal Helium Reserve, which is the world’s largest supplier, has a current reserve of just 24.2 BCf (685 million cubic metres). Total known reserves in the USA are around 153 BCf (4.3 billion cubic metres).”

But despite the massive potential of the new gas field, even more exciting is that the way we found it. Before now, helium had always been discovered accidentally, but with what the scientists now understand about volcanoes and helium geochemistry, researchers can now go looking for the gas, meaning Rift Valley could soon be followed by other massive hauls.

The team’s research is being presented this week at the Goldschmidt 2016 geochemistry conference in Yokohama, Japan.


 

The GT26 lives on with Ansaldo (for now)

June 21, 2016

I have previously expressed my doubts as to how long sequential combustion technology will continue for gas turbines after the technology has been transferred to Ansaldo Energia (as part of the acquisition of Alstom by GE).

Ansaldo has announced (in March this year) the sale of 2×2 GT26 machines as part of power islands for the Ibri and Sohar#3 combined cycle plants Oman.

Ansaldo Energia Switzerland has been awarded two contracts worth approximately 600 million Euros in total for the supply of major power plant equipment to two large IPP projects. The Ibri 1510 MW CCPP and Sohar III 1710 MW CCPP in the Sultanate of Oman are expected to be commissioned in early 2019. The Ibri and Sohar III CCPP IPP projects are developed by the sponsor consortium of Mitsui & Co. Ltd., ACWA – International Company for Water and Power Projects and DIDIC – Dhofar International Development and Investment Holding Company, following a simultaneous award of the two projects to the development consortium by Oman Power and Water Procurement Company SAOC of Oman earlier this month. The two power stations will operate and supply power under a PPA to the grid in the Sultanate of Oman. Ansaldo Energia will supply the main power train equipment components, including for each power plant, four of Ansaldo Energia’s newly acquired high-efficiency advanced GT26 class gas turbines, four heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), two steam turbines and six turbo generators to SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Cooperation of China (SEPCOIII), who will be responsible for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) on a turnkey basis. Ansaldo Energia will also provide field services to SEPCOIII – under separate contracts – during the construction phase and long term maintenance services to the operator after commissioning. These projects mark Ansaldo Energia’s first success with its recently acquired and formerly Alstom owned GT26 gas turbine technology and will be one of the largest CCPP project awards in the Gulf region. Ansaldo Energia will certainly have a firm place the CCPP and IPP market where highly efficient, operationally flexible and reliable technology is required. With these two projects in execution in the region and Ansaldo Energia’s presence as a service provider in the Middle East area through Ansaldo Thomassen Gulf in Abu Dhabi, Ansaldo Energia’s position in the Gulf will be further strengthened. Juerg Schmidli, Ansaldo Energia Switzerland President, commented: “With its operating flexibility and high efficiency, the GT26 gas turbine will play a critical role in generating maximum project returns for our customer. This is the perfect start for our newly formed Company Ansaldo Energia Switzerland”.

I hope these machines from Baden/Birr will truly mean that Ansaldo has grabbed the sequential combustion ball and is running with it (and not that these are just machines already largely manufactured while under Alstom ownership and completed by Ansaldo).

What I still doubt is whether Ansaldo has the tradition, expertise and financial clout left to manage and implement any innovations. If they cannot, the Alstom version of the GT26 Ansaldo has acquired is already outdated. Especially since Siemens, GE and Mitsubishi have H-class machines in operation and are already moving on to H+ engines. GE’s HA-class machine (9HA) is operational in France for EdeF (62.22% claimed efficiency). The GT26 is still probably only at the G+ level and Ansaldo will need to get beyond the H-class efficiency level to be a realistic fourth player. If not the GT26 will be consigned – at best – to some niche markets. The 60Hz (including US) market and the GT24 are not available to Ansaldo and that does not help in the experience stakes.

How long it may take to get a commercial version of the next generation GT36 to market, or whether it will ever see the light of day, is an open question. I have a soft spot for sequential combustion and would like to see it continue. But I will stay pessimistic and remain doubtful that Ansaldo Energia has the wherewithal to remain a serious player with this technology.

And hope to be proved wrong.

Alstom GT26

Alstom GT26


 

That iPhone the FBI (Israelis) cracked – “contains nothing of significance”

April 15, 2016

Much ado …. full of sound and fury … signifying nothing.

So, Syed Farook’s iPhone that Apple refused to unlock, which the FBI took Apple to court for, which was finally cracked by an Israeli company working for the FBI, contained nothing of any significance. Still, I suppose the FBI and Apple (and the Israeli security company Cellebrite) have all had their time strutting and fretting on the stage, and all publicity is good publicity.

But the FBI come out of this looking petty and silly.

CBS News: 

A law enforcement source tells CBS News that so far nothing of real significance has been found on the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, which was unlocked by the FBI last month without the help of Apple.

It was stressed that the FBI continues to analyze the information on the cellphone seized in the investigation, senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports. Investigators spent months trying to gain access to data on the locked iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, believing that it might hold information on the plans or contacts of the attackers, who killed 14 people on December 2, 2015.

Apple was fighting a court order to assist the FBI in bypassing the phone’s security measures. On March 28, the FBI announced that it had managed to unlock the phone and was dropping the court fight with Apple.

The FBI has not disclosed what method it used to access the data on the iPhone but the method is believed to have been developed by a third party, a private entity, the government has refused to identify.

FBI Director James Comey said last week that the bureau has not decided whether to share details with Apple about how it hacked into Farook’s iPhone 5c. “If we tell Apple, they’re going to fix it and we’re back where we started,” Comey said. “As silly as it may sound, we may end up there. We just haven’t decided yet.”

As The Register points out the FBI were more interested in attacking Apple and actually did not expect to find anything. They probably always knew that Cellebrite could get into the phone but dinät reveal that to support their position in court:

The news will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has followed the case: the phone in question was one of three used by Farook. It was his work phone and was owned by his employer, the health department.

His two personal phones were found by investigators, crushed and dumped in a trash can at his house. Since Farook had clearly gone to some trouble to destroy any digital evidence (he also smashed up hard drives and other digital media), the fact that the iPhone in question was recovered intact made it highly unlikely that it held anything of real value.

Regardless, the FBI used the existence of the phone and the shocking nature of the crime to wage a public war with Apple over encryption and access to electronic goods. Having mistakenly caused the phone’s cloud storage to be reset (some doubt it was a mistake), the FBI applied through the courts to force Apple to develop a way for it to pull all the information of the phone.

The court served an injunction but Apple refuse to honor it, claiming that the request effectively obliged it to break its own product’s security and would have implications far beyond the single phone.

Following a very public spat in which Apple refused to back down, and voices in Washington starting to criticize the FBI for trying to seek a legal precedent rather than solve a crime, the day before a legal hearing on the matter, the FBI suddenly announced it had found a third party that was able to grant it access to the phone’s data.


 

Israeli company cracks Apple iPhone for FBI

March 29, 2016

iphone seThe FBI has now dropped its lawsuit against Apple because they have managed to crack the encryption on the  iPhone of the San Bernardino gunman without Apple’s help. Clearly the Israeli company Cellebrite has succeeded where the FBI’s own experts had failed.

The question now becomes what Apple will do about this demonstrated vulnerability. Perhaps they have already eliminated the weakness in their new models after the iPhone 5S? Added to their latest fiasco with their OS 9.3 download, Apple “technology” is not riding very high right now.

The Verge:

Cellebrite, an Israeli mobile forensic software company, is reportedly helping the FBI get into Syed Farook’s device, according to reports from Reuters and Ynet.

The FBI “has been reportedly using the services of the Israeli-based company Cellebrite in its effort to break the protection on a terrorist’s locked iPhone, according to experts in the field familiar with the case,” Ynet reports. The Verge reached out to Cellebrite yesterday afternoon for comment and hasn’t yet heard back. ……. The company has a sole-source contract with the FBI that it signed in 2013 specifically to help with mobile forensics and data extraction, exactly the task presented by the San Bernardino case. …..

In its notice of intent to sole source, the FBI wrote: “Market research efforts have indicated that the Cellebrite UFED System is the only hand-held, cellular exploitation device worldwide that requires no PC or associated phone drivers.” It continued that the company supports “all major technologies (DMA, CDMA,GSM, IDEN) including smartphone operating systems and PDAs (Apple iPhone, Blackberry, Google Android, Microsoft Mobile, Palm, and Symbian) for over 95 percent of all handset models worldwide.”

………. experts speculate the attack is based on a NAND mirroring technique, which involves essentially copying the flash memory of the device so it can be restored after a lockscreen wipe. US Representative Darrel Issa directly asked FBI Director James Comey about the possibility of using this technique during a House Judiciary hearing last month. The bureau is now well aware of its existence, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t work on the iPhone 5C in question. Notably, this method will run into problems on phones with a Secure Enclave, ruling out any phones beyond the 5S.

UFED-Touch

UFED-Touch

Some of Cellebrite’s promotional material on their UFED:

Cellebrite’s UFED Pro Series

With mountains of data being created via mobile device applications daily – Facebook, Twitter, Kik, Snapchat, etc. – forensic examiners need quick and efficient ways to tap into rapidly expanding data sources when a situation demands. Our UFED Pro Series is designed for forensic examiners and investigators who require the most comprehensive, up-to-date mobile data extraction and decoding support available to handle the influx of new data sources.

UFED Ultimate

UFED Ultimate enables the physical, logical and file system extraction of all data and passwords – even deleted – from the widest range of mobile phones, portable GPS devices and tablets. The powerful combination of proprietary boot loaders, UFED Physical Analyzer, UFED Phone Detective and UFED Reader, enables advanced decoding, mobile phone detection, data analysis and reporting every time.


 


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