Feeds

Will the iPhone be iPwned?

The dark lining to Apple's silver cloud

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

LAS VEGAS - The Apple Store at the Fashion Show Mall has a solid crowd for a Monday afternoon and it's easy to pinpoint the favourite.

A dozen iPhone stations collect at the front of the store, and they are rarely lonely. A stylish 20-something couple laughs as the man snaps a picture of the woman and shows her the screen. A brown-haired woman wearing a UNLV t-shirt moves her fingers over the display and smiles as the device responds. The ready touches and kid-in-the-candy-store smiles are likely just the reaction that Apple CEO Steve Jobs hoped to elicit with the device.

However, the iPhone has gotten a lot rougher treatment from the hackers and security researchers that will converge on Las Vegas for the Black Hat Security Briefings and the DEFCON hacking conference this week.

A month after its release, the iPhone has been poked, prodded, torn apart and made to reveal a number of its secrets. Hackers have already learned how to build and install programs on the device, a considerable feat as Apple has not published any application interfaces or development kits for the iPhone. And bug hunters have had wins of their own: On Thursday, Charles Miller, a security researcher at Independent Security Evaluators, will reveal the details of a significant flaw found in the device's stripped-down web browser - a flaw that Apple patched on Tuesday.

For Miller, there is no secret about the reason for all the attention. Since its launch a month ago, the iPhone and its slick interface have garnered rave reviews from tech-savvy users. Hacker and security researchers are no exception: Miller carries his own iPhone and quickly pulls it out upon request over breakfast Tuesday.

"The iPhone is cool," he said.

Yet, the popularity of the sleek phone has also lured hackers to pull apart the device and flout Apple's restrictions on developing software for the device. And, just as they took to Macs and MacBooks, security researchers have focused on finding flaws in the iPhone's operating system and software. It's the dark lining to Apple's silver cloud.

"The bottom line is that people will find ways of accessing the device," said Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer for anti-virus firm F-Secure and an expert on mobile-device security. "I'm guessing there will be more activity for the next six months on the iPhone then there will be on the Macs or OS X."

Already, the first month's flurry of hacking rivals the attacks of late last year that focused on cracking the security surrounding the next-generation Blu-Ray and HD DVD video formats. The poking and prodding have also born fruit -sSecurity researchers have already identified severe design weaknesses in the iPhone.

At the top of the list, the device's operating system runs every application with administrator privileges, according to Miller and his cohorts at Independent Security Evaluators, turning a simple breach of any application into a breach of the system. In addition, both the iPhone's stack and heap are executable and the layout of programs in memory are not randomised - two factors that make exploitation of any vulnerabilities much easier, he said.

"I think people are letting Apple off easy," Miller said. "You need to design the iPhone so that even if there is a problem in Safari, people don't completely take over your phone."

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
George Clooney, WikiLeaks' lawyer wife hand out burner phones to wedding guests
Day 4: 'News'-papers STILL rammed with Clooney nuptials
Shellshock: 'Larger scale attack' on its way, warn securo-bods
Not just web servers under threat - though TENS of THOUSANDS have been hit
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
PEAK IPV4? Global IPv6 traffic is growing, DDoS dying, says Akamai
First time the cache network has seen drop in use of 32-bit-wide IP addresses
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.