Only high-end criminal gangs or state-sponsored actors could hack a phone in the way a man accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl claims happened to him, an expert has told the court.
MoD-trained forensic expert and ethical hacker Tony Haddow said it was “extremely unlikely” a hacker could have gained remote access to Trevor Fernandes’s Samsung to set up an encrypted partition without his knowledge.
Fernandes is charged with convincing a Texan girl to strip naked and perform lewd acts on herself, her baby sister and pet dog, before threatening to release sexually explicit images of her unless she complied with his every instruction.
The messages, sent on Instagram and Kik, were traced by American police back to the 37-year-old’s address in Swindon, and by the National Crime Agency to his Samsung Galaxy S10, where he had an encrypted partition that held the apps in question.
Swindon Crown Court heard yesterday that Fernandes “denied all knowledge” of the partition, known as Knox, and claimed “someone else hacked into his phone”.
‘China and Russia would have that capability’
Today (May 13), Mr Haddow told the court that only a hostile, state-sponsored actor such as Russia or China, or a high-end criminal gang, could hack into the phone to set up Knox to open biometrically, and not alert the user of the phone.
He said he “wouldn’t say anything is impossible”, but when asked what skillset someone would need to be able to carry this out, he said “hostile states like China, Russia, would have that capability”.
“It’s not the capability that a general avid user would have,” he added.
In a day of evidence dedicated to forensic analysis of Fernandes’s Samsung, Mr Haddow, head of forensic at cyber security company 4Secure, was asked whether “anything is possible” once a hacker has penetrated a device.
“It is a very specialised skillset,” he told jurors. “Someone would have to be pretty determined.”
Later, Mr Haddow cited the Israeli government’s Pegasus malware, exposed in 2016, where he said that it was…