Apple said on Thursday that it is developing a fix for vulnerabilities that affect its iPhone, iPad and some iPod touch models, a problem that the German government warned could be used to steal confidential data.
The vulnerabilities became publicised with a new release on Wednesday of JailbreakMe 3.0, a framework that allows unauthorised applications to be installed in devices such as the iPhone.
Apple prohibits the installation of applications that have not been approved for distribution in its App Store. But hackers have used vulnerabilities in the iOS operating system that allow the phones to be ‘jailbroken,’ allowing applications not vetted by Apple to be used that are obtained through alternative application markets such as Cydia.
Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security, known as BSI, issued an alert on Wednesday about the vulnerabilities, which it said could be exploited if a user opened a specially crafted PDF document. The issue involves how the iOS parses fronts within the mobile version of the Safari browser.
There is also a second vulnerability that circumvents ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomisation), a security feature which mixes up how programs are loaded into memory and makes it more difficult for an attacker.
BSI noted that it would be possible for an attacker using the flaws to steal passwords, banking data and emails as well as have access to built-in cameras, intercept telephone calls and obtain the GPS coordinates of a user.
Apple rarely comments on security issues. But on Thursday, Alan Hely senior director for corporate communications in London, said in a statement that “Apple takes security very seriously, we’re aware of this reported issue and developing a fix that will be available to customers in an upcoming software update.”
The BSI wrote that the devices affected are the iPhone 3G and devices running iOS versions up to 4.3.3. Also affected are both iPad models and iPod Touch models running iOS versions up to 4.3.3.
One of the hackers behind JailbreakMe, Comex, published a fix for the vulnerability called PDF Patcher 2, which is now in the Cydia app store. It will only work if people install JailbreakMe, which Apple discourages.
“Until Apple releases an update, jailbreaking will ironically be the best way to remain secure,” according to a note on the JailbreakMe website.