It looks like the Judgment Day for iOS has finally arrived. Until today the robustness of the AppStore has always been considered one of the strengths of the Apple Model: unlike the Android Market, which is constantly under attack for its weak security model that allowed too many malicious users to upload malicious applications, a strict control policy had prevented, at least so far, the same destiny for the mobile Apple Application.
Unfortunately Charlie Miller, an old acquaintance of the Apple Supporters, thought that winning three Pwn2Owns in the last four years (2008, 2009 and 2011) exploiting practically every Apple Vulnerability was not enough. So he decided consequently to attack Cupertino directly inside its AppStore security model.
The story begins early last year, after the release of iOS 4.3 when the researcher became suspicious of a possible flaw in the code signing of Apple’s mobile devices.
As stated in the original article by Forbes:
The next step was to discover a bug that allowed to expand that code-running exception to any application, and that is exactly what he did, but still this was not enough.
After discovering the bug, he submitted an App to the App Store exploiting the vulnerability. The App was approved and behaved as expected (actually a behaviour to which the victims of Android malware are quite familiar): the app was able to phone home to a remote computer downloading new unapproved commands onto the device and executing them at will, including stealing the user’s photos, reading contacts, making the phone vibrate or play sounds, or otherwise repurposing normal iOS app functions for malicious ends.
This method will be presented at the SysCan Conference in Taiwan next week even if a video demonstrations of the exploit is already available.
Last but not least: as a reward for discovering the bug, Apple has decided to revoke to Miller the Developer’s License.
Probably Android users will be the happiest to learn that, as stated by Miller:
Android has been like the Wild West. And this bug basically reduces the security of iOS to that of Android.
At least for one thing (security), iOS and Android are identical.
It looks like that the Perfidious Albion is not what one should exactly define a Paradise for Mobile Security. Not only the echoes of the Scandal concerning “voicemail hacking” led the infamous tabloid News Of the World to close on Sunday, the 10th of July 2011, and Rebekah Brooks to resign as CEO of News International today; but also the flow of events has unexpectedly brought mobile security issues to the attention of a wider audience, no more confined to the sole and exclusive attention of information security professionals.
This is partially due to the relative easiness in implementing similar hacking techniques in mobile communications, which is raising doubts and misgivings in many other countries. As a matter of fact, as actually happened, voicemail hacking is relatively easy to implement and is based, as usual, on two factors:
- From the user perspective, on the poor attention for default (in)security settings;
- From the operator perspective, on the necessary trade-off between security, user experience, and convenience, (almost) always favoring the latter, which turns out not to be an optimal choice from a security perspective.
A lethal mix wich may be quite easily exploited by a balanced blend made of (little) hacking and (a lot of) social engineering. At this link a really complete and interesting description very helpful to understand how relatively easy is to perform voicemail hacking with some U.K. operators (but keep in mind that procedures vary from Operator to Operator). Accorrding to the above quoted article, in theory, it is possible to elude the meshes of the security procedures of the operators, simply calling the voicemail of the victim impersonating the legitimate user, claiming to have forgotten the PIN and voila, that’s it!
Voicemail hacking does not need further components, but unfortunately is not the only issue that may happen: in theory entire conversations may be hijacked (and unfortunately it is something we are quite familiar to, here in Italy). The Security Process of a phone conversations is an end-to-end chain, inside which technology is only a component, and the human factor is the weakest link. In this context weak means leak so that often it happens that some information that should not be disclosed are delivered to media (even if irrelevant to any ongoing investigations) with devastating aftermaths for investigations themselves and for victims’ privacy.
The scenario is further complicated with the new generation of smartphones, where technology (and the ongoing process of Consumerization of Information Technology) leaves virtually no limits to the imagination of attackers: not only voicemail hacking, but also mobile malware (a threat which does not need the unintended cooperation of the Operator) capable of extracting any information from devices. The dramatic events in U.K. involved using stolen data for squalid journalistic purposes, but, since mobile devices are nowadays indispensable companions of our everyday lives, nothing prevents, in theory, to use the same or different methods to steal other kinds of information such as confidential data, banking transaction identifiers, etc… Do you really need a confirm? For instance the recent evolution of the Infamous ZiTMo mobile malware that has just landed on Android (the continuing metamorphosis of this malware is really meaningful: born on the Windows platform, it has rapidly spread on Windows CE, Symbian, and now, last but not least, Android). Since it is expected that 5.6% of iPhones/Android handsets is going to be infected in the next 12 months, there is much to worry. In this context what happened in U.K. may constitute a dangerous precedent and a dramatic source of inspiration for organized cybercrime.
Fears that similar occurrences could happen in other countries are rapidly spreading. As a consequence some countries are moving fast to prevent them.
In the U.S., in wake of U.K. Hacking, Representative Mary Bono Mack, a California Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade, is contacting handset manufacturer companies including Apple, Google, Research in Motion, and wireless companies as well, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, to determine if there are any vulnerabilities in cell phones or mobile devices which can be exploited by criminals and other unscrupulous individuals. Clearly the final target is to prevent similar events from ever happening in the United States.
For the Chronicle, on June 13 Bono Mack released draft legislation which aims to tighten data security for companies victims of data breaches. Under the proposal, companies that experience a breach that exposes consumer data would have 48 hours to contact law enforcement agencies and begin assessing the potential damage.
Immediately after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is considering investigation into News Corp. for the same reson.
Anyway U.S. is not the only country worried about, as similar concerns are raising in Canada, and I may easily imagine that other countries will soon deal the same stuff.
A final curious notice: a further confirm that U.K. is not the paradise for mobile security came this morning when I stumbled upon this wiki which happily shows how to hack a Vodafone femto cell (just released to public) in order to, among the other things, intercept traffic, perform call frauds (place calls or send SMS on on behalf of somebody else SIM card).
The best (or the worst, it depends on the points of view) is yet to come…
- How not to get your phone hacked (blogs.journalism.co.uk)
- Hacking into U.S., U.K. phones easier than in Canada, but remain wary (canada.com)
- Lawmakers Question Cell Phone Privacy In Wake Of Hacking Scandal (techdailydose.nationaljournal.com)
It looks like the consumerization of warfare is unstoppable and getting more and more mobile. After our first post of Jume the 16th, today I stumbled upon a couple of articles indicating the growing military interest for consumer technologies.
Network World reports that the National Security Agency is evaluating the use of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) products for military purposes and is evaluating several different commercially available smartphones and tablets, properly hardened and secured. The final goal is to have four main devices, plus a couple of infrastructure support services. Meanwhile, trying to anticipate the NSA certification process, U.S. Marines are willing to verify the benefits of a military use of smartphones and consequently issued a Request For Information for trusted handheld platforms.
In both cases, the new technologies (smartphones and tablets) are preferred since they are able to provide, in small size and weight, the capability to rapidly access information in different domains (e.g., internet, intranet, secret), geolocation capabilities which are useful in situation awareness contexts, and , last but not least, the capability to connect with different media (eg, personal area network [PAN], wireless local area network [LAN], wide area network [WAN]).
Nevertheless, in a certain manner, the two approaches, albeit aiming to the same objective, are slightly different. NSA is evaluating the possibility to harden COTS in order to make them suitable for a military use, but since this process of hardening, certification and accreditation may take up to a couple of years, which is typically the life cycle of a commercial smartphone or tablet (it sounds quite optimistic since one year is an eternity for this kind of devices), the RFI issued by the Marines Corps is soliciting for system architectures and business partnerships that facilitate low-cost and high-assurance handhelds, where high-assurance means at least meeting the common criteria for evaluated assurance level (EAL) of 5+ or above. From this point of view the Marines’ approach seems closer to (and hence follows) the approach faced by the U.S. Army which is already testing iPhones, Android devices and tablets for us in war (a total of 85 apps, whose development took about $4.2 million, we could nearly speak about a Military iTunes or Military Android Market!).
But the adoption of consumer technologies does not stop here and will probably soon involve also the use of technologies closely resembling the Cloud. As a matter of fact, the NSA plans to develop in the near future a secure mobile capability, referred to as the “Mobile Virtual Network Operator,”, which will be be able to establish a way to provide sensitive content to the military and intelligence “in a way that roughly emulates what Amazon does with Kindle”, as stated by said Debora Plunkett, director of the NSA’s information assurance directorate, speaking at the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit 2011 (but the NSA will not be the first to pilot this kind of technology since the NATO is already adopting Cloud Computing).
Probably this is only one side of the coin, I’m willing to bet that the consumerization of warfare will soon “infect” armies belonging to different countries and consequently the next step will be the development of weapons (read mobile military malware) targeted to damage the normal behavior of the military smartphones and tablets. On the other hand the Pentagon has developed a list of cyber-weapons, including malware, that can sabotage an adversary’s critical networks, so it is likely that these kind of weapons will soon affect mobile devices…
- NSA wants bulletproof smartphone, tablet security (infoworld.com)
- Consumerization of Warfare (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
- NSA Reveals Cloud Plans, May Open-Source Some of Its Software (readwriteweb.com)
The Apple and the Android (almost) never agree in anything, but the issue of the Location Tracking has done the miracle and if there is one only point that Cupertino and Mountain View have in common, it is just the bad habit to track user’s position without his/her knowledge.
After the well known issue of iPhone hidden (so to say) location tracking, Wired was able to discover why Apple devices collect these kind od data, unleashing 13-page letter sent by Apple’s general counsel Bruce Sewell in July 2010, explaining its location-data-collection techniques. The letter was written in response to a request from Congressmen Joe Barton and Edward Markey asking for Apple to disclose such practices (Incidentally, Markey authored the “Do Not Track” bill to stop online companies from tracking children).
Although no comment so far has arrived from Apple, I was disappointed in discovering, from a Cisco Blog Post, dealing with the same argument, that a similar
bad habit collection has been detected for Google’s Android (at least the Android needs the root permission to grab the data).
In both cases the alleged main purpose of this data collection is to provide better location services. Instead my feeling is that the main benefit in this situation is not for the user, but for the marketing and/or advertising agencies which could come in possession of the data.
Interesting to notice the iPhone 3GS Software License Agreement states that:
By using any location-based services on your iPhone, you agree and consent to Apple’s and its partners’ licensees’ transmission, collection, maintenance, processing and use of your location data to provide such products and services.
Location data – Google offers location-enabled services, such as Google Maps and Latitude. If you use those services, Google may receive information about your actual location (such as GPS signals sent by a mobile device) or information that can be used to approximate a location (such as a cell ID).
Until now, nothing special, except the fact that Latitude asks for the user’s consent to share the data with the other, which, if I am not wrong, does not occurr for Google Maps. But the interesting point come a some lines below:
In addition to the above, we may use the information we collect to:
- Provide, maintain, protect, and improve our services (including advertising services) and develop new services; and
- Protect the rights or property of Google or our users.
Meanwhile Minnesota Senator Al Franken and the attorney general of Illinois are separately pressing Apple and Google to provide more information about the location data they collect about their end users…
- Lawmakers quiz Apple, Google about location tracking (infoworld.com)
- Grab Your Data? There’s An App For That! (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
- IPhone Stored Location Even if Disabled (online.wsj.com)
- Apple, Google Collect User Data (online.wsj.com)
- iPhone Location Tracking: Important, Even if it Doesn’t Matter to You (blogs.cisco.com)
The news of the day is undoubtedly the discovery that Apple devices are a bit ‘too nosy’ and regularly record the position of the device into a hidden (!!) unencrypted and unprotected file.
The unwelcome and serendipitous discovery, which was announced today at Where 2.0, has been performed by two researchers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, while they were working on a project concerning visualization of Mobile Data. It looks like this unrequested feature has been introduced since the arrival of iOS 4.0 and allows the locations and their relative time stamps to be written on an easily accessible file on the device and, even worse, backed up on every PC the device has been synchronized with.
Even if the purpose of the file is unknown (at least so far), and would be appropriate to wait a reply from Apple (if any) before coming to any conclusion, this event, once again, brings to the fore privacy issues for mobile devices, strictly related to the security model for these devices, and, more in general, to the cultural approach and revolution users must face (and get used to) when dealing with mobile technologies.
For sure the main issue here is the lack of respect by Cupertino towards the users (customers?). We know that this is not the first time that a mobile applications attracts criticism for the use of private data (think for instance to the affair of Google Latitude). In the case of Apple Equipment (differently from the creature of Google) the user may not explicitly approve the sharing (would be better to say the tracking since there is no evidence of sharing so far) of his data. But even if we do not consider the ethic point of view, from a security perspective the event has a devastating impact: if the file containing the data may be easily accessed, this means that, in case of theft, could be quite easy, for a malicious user, to grab the data and reconstruct the habits of the users. If we think, for instance, to industrial espionage, this occurence has a dramatic consequence enhanced by the evidence that this kind of devices are often used by CxOs. (Who are the most targeted by the risks of consumerization of IT, of which this is yet another example).
Moreover, in most circumstances I discussed the risks of geolocation (and its correlation with users’ habits) and the importance that this data could have if massively stolen (for instance by mean of a Mobile Botnet) by Cybercrooks and conveyed to a C&C Server. In a similar scenario bad guys capable of stealing such a similar amount of data would have no difficulty at all to organize an auction “to the death” between hungry marketing agencies, which would pay gold to put their hand on them. I must admit that the thought that these “bad boys” could be just the manufacturers of my iPhone (luckily I own an Android) does not make me feel very comfortable. This situation is also paradoxical: many security vendors offer privacy advisors for (other) mobile platforms, but the evidence that one user should defend his privacy from the manufacturer itself sounds absurd and frustrating. Of course I continue to repeat that it is better to wait for an Apple official reply, but, honestly speaking the fact that these data are only available for devices provided with a cellular plan, sounds very strange.
Meanwhile, if you want to know more and enjoy (I hope so) to verify where have you been since you bought your brand new iToy, you may have a really interesting look at this link where the authors of the discovery posted an app to unleash the file and graphically map the positions.
Last but not least, there is no evidece (so far), of a similar “Feature” on the Droids.
On the other hand, these are tough times for the privacy of smartphones owners. As a matter of fact, quite curiously, today another, apparently unrelated, piece of news coming from the opposite site of the Ocean caught my attention. It concerns Michigan State Police, which has been using data extraction tools to collect information from the cell phones of motorists detained for minor traffic infractions. This has been possible by mean of Cellebrite, a mobile Forensics Tool capable to perform:
“Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags. The Physical Analyzer allows visualization of both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth. In addition, location information from GPS devices and image geotags can be mapped on Google Maps,”
Even if the latter issue raises the question concerning to what extent the law can go when facing privacy of the citizens, the two news have in common the (mis)use of mobile data and I could not help but thinking that mobile data are continuously under attack and users should consequently consider carefully the usage of their devices (this is the reason why I used the term of cultural revolution).
Who knows, maybe Michigan State Police hoped to make further fines for speeding after detaining the motorists by tracking GPS position and timestamps. Probably if they had known the existence of the above mentioned feature of iOS, they would have avoided to buy the software and grab directly the data… At least for iOS 4 users…