Researchers demo how apps, chargers can circumvent Apple iPhone, iPad security

Bob Brown
3 August, 2013
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Call it a case of Jekyll apps that can hide.

Georgia Tech researchers have developed a proof-of-concept attack called Jekyll that involves using Trojan Horse-style apps to sneak malware past Apple’s app review process and onto iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) associate director Paul Royal says we can get lulled into a false sense of security by Apple’s renowned app review process for iOS devices.

Researcher Tielei Wang’s team created a proof-of-concept attack that was published in the Apple App Store and used to remotely launch attacks on a controlled batch of devices, enabling them to post unauthorised tweets, take photos and even go after other apps.

More detailed findings are being revealed in a paper titled ‘Jekyll on iOS: When Benign Apps Become Evil‘, which will be presented at the USENIX Security Symposium 14 to 16 August in Washington DC.

Separately, researcher Billy Lau’s team has investigated how iOS device peripherals might attack the devices. Using a BeagleBoard, Lau’s team created a USB malicious charger called Mactans that can install apps without user knowledge within a minute of being plugged in.

“Despite the plethora of defence mechanisms in iOS, Mactans was able to install arbitrary apps within one minute of being plugged into current-generation Apple devices running the latest operating system software,” said Lau, in a statement. “All users are affected, as our approach requires neither a jailbroken device nor user interaction.”

Apple has been notified by the Georgia Tech researchers of the flaws their teams discovered, and the company has implemented a feature in iOS 7 to warn users of suspicious behaviour by peripherals. Apple is working on the Jekyll vulnerability.

The peripherals threat was discussed last week at the Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas (27 July to 1 August), where Georgia Tech is presenting the paper ‘Mactans: Injecting Malware into iOS Devices via Malicious Chargers‘.

The growing threat of compromised mobile devices has largely centred on Android, though security watchers anticipate malware writers will put more effort into cracking iOS devices, particularly as they become more popular in corporate networks. Even Apple rival BlackBerry has addressed this issue by expanding its Secure Work Space offering, which divvies up work and personal apps/data, into Android and iOS environments.

by Bob Brown, Network World

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