How iCloud helped convince Paul Manafort

The former manager of the Trump has made a deal to plead guilty to federal charges, to cooperate and to avoid a second lawsuit. How the years of political fixer abuse of Apple's products and services, and poor operational security, has helped bring about his downfall.

Paul Manafort, the old political advisor who was president of President Donald Trump in 2016, agreed last week with a plea with Robert S. Mueller, the firm's special lawyer.

Manafort, who was convicted in August for charges of bank and tax fraud, has agreed to be guilty of one count of conspiracy against the US and a censure of conspiracy to impede justice, CNN reported, referring to court documents.

The agreement means Manafort will avoid a second trial, which should start this month, and at the same time agree with Mueller's investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 elections. It also means that Manafort has agreed to withdraw $ 46 million. To be in different accounts, an amount that up to now is more than the total costs of the Mueller probe itself.

The number of obstacles is mainly due to an unlikely source, the poor operational security of Manafort with regard to his iCloud account. But that is only one way that the enthusiasm of Manafort for Apple products has emerged in the business.

"20 Apple devices"

According to a motion submitted by the lawyers of Manafort, when federal agents invaded Manafort's apartment building in July 2017, they grabbed a large amount of electronic devices, including at least 7 iPods.

The document mentioned that the robbery consisted of seven iPods, four iPhones, one MacBook Air, one iMac (including one Solid State Drive (SSD) and one hard drive (HDD)), two iPads and several iPods and iPhones, which are mentioned separately . The motion argued that certain devices were not used properly and that the Special Counsel promised not to introduce any evidence from the iPod's & # 39; s in this case.

The national security journalist, Marcy Wheeler, noted a semantic inconsistency that the counsel's office had agreed not to use the iPod evidence "in this case," while he made no other promise.

Now that Manafort has agreed to work "fully, truthfully, completely and openly" and agrees to transfer all relevant documents and materials, we can very well find out exactly what exactly was on those iPods.

However, it is Manafort's use of iCloud that has probably brought him even more problems.

The ibloud-backup blunder

In June, after Manafort had been indicted several times and released on bail while awaiting the first of two planned trials, he was jailed after being beaten with additional accusations of testimony. Manafort, according to prosecutors, had wrongly contacted two potential witnesses via WhatsApp. That Manafort had done that was discovered by the FBI through an unlikely source: his iCloud account. It turned out that Manafort had backed up his encrypted WhatsApp messages to an unencrypted iCloud account, which had given researchers a court order to review.

Now we know that Manafort has paid the price. The census of witnesses, on which he pleaded Friday, was directly connected with his iCloud blunder.

Most of the coverage in the technical press showed how untidy Manafort had been with its operational security, and seemed to commit crimes easily found through unencrypted communications.

"What about San Bernardino?"

But in the following months, an alternative point of discussion arose: that Apple had done something inappropriate by giving the FBI and Mueller probe access to Manafort's iCloud account. Furthermore, it was argued that Apple is guilty of hypocrisy, in the sense that they refused in a famous way to create a back door for unlocking the iPhone that belonged to one of the shooters in the terrorist attack of San Bernardino.

This vision was most clearly expressed in a Fox news segment of commentator Steve Hilton, aired on August 10.

In that show Hilton drove a conspiracy theory that Apple's Tim Cook – as part of "the sw" – helped Mueller to "screw" Paul Manafort, and thus the president. Proof? Mueller previously worked for a law firm that represented Apple. And Apple had refused in 2016 to unlock the iPhone that belonged to one of the accused San Bernardino terrorists.

"Another of [Mueller’s] -FBI customers were Apple, & Hilton said. & # 39; Which, among other things, diligently monitors its reputation for monitoring the privacy of users. The pompous, hypocritical and hypocritical CEO Tim Cook said that privacy is a human right, it is a civil freedom. "

Hilton continued to ignore Apple for refusing to comply with the order to open the iPhone in the San Bernardino case and to accuse them with hypocrisy for complying with a court order in the Manafort case.

"[Mueller] Apple asks for private information from its iCloud service, information regarding one Paul Manafort. So what does Mr. Privacy, Tim Cook? Certainly Robert, we will hand it over. The Apple iCloud data directly led to criminal charges against Paul Manafort. That's how it works – for Apple, for Mueller, for all these sw-beings. "

This theory might contain a lot of holes.

"No collusion"

The lawful order, signed by a judge, for Paul Manafort's iCloud data was not an excessive catch or violation of civil rights. It was a completely inconspicuous legal maneuver, one that provided clear evidence of a federal crime to which Manafort has now pleaded guilty, alongside other crimes of which he has been convicted. Nor does it appear that the Manafort legal team has ever challenged the legality or legitimacy of the iCloud order.

When a customer signs up for iCloud, they agree that law enforcement agencies can get an information order there. It is here in the iCloud Terms of Service, to which Manafort and every other iCloud user agree:

"You acknowledge and agree that Apple may, without liability to you, consult, use, store and / or disclose your account information and content to law enforcement agencies, government officials and / or any third party, to Apple believe that this is reasonably necessary or appropriate if legally required to do so or if Apple believes in good faith that such access, use, disclosure or storage is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with a legal process or request. "

Apple has specific policies for compliance with subpoenas for iCloud data. In this case, as in most comparable countries, the Mueller team requested a court order to gain access to a customer's iCloud data. When that happens, getting the data from Apple is not a matter of a special favor – they are legally required to comply. It is completely routine and not something that requires a special intervention from Robert Mueller to Tim Cook. It is no different than that a local police department has a possible reason to search a search warrant for drugs or illegal weapons and then find them.

Mueller indeed worked for Wilmer Hale, the law firm that Apple has been representing for many years, especially in connection with his lengthy patent litigation with Samsung. But it is unclear whether Mueller ever did personal work for Apple and Mueller's name has certainly never been closely linked to a lawsuit, trial or other important legal dispute involving the company.

As far as the comparison with San Bernardino is concerned, that case consisted of an entirely different set of circumstances and problems. In that case, Apple was asked to develop a solution to allow law enforcement agencies to unlock a locked iPhone. An extraordinary measure to bypass its own security to circumvent an encrypted phone is certainly very different from a request for unencrypted iCloud data.

There is another, rather big, inconsistency in Steve Hilton's argument about Manafort and iCloud. On August 10, the same night that that segment was broadcast, Cook was in New Jersey – a dinner with President Trump and the first lady. In fact, in the last few years, Cook has almost certainly spent more time with the president where he is said to be conspiring than ever with Robert Mueller.

Lessons of autumn

There are several lessons that ordinary users of iCloud learn from what happened to Manafort. First, do not commit federal crimes. Second, if you are going to commit federal crimes, do not take up a job as high-profile as caign chief of a candidate for President of the United States. But if you feel compelled to do both, do not back up the evidence of your crimes on your personal iCloud account.

© Appleinsider

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