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Experts fret over iPad security risks

Death and taxes and browser exploits

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Apple's much hyped iPad tablet may come tightly locked down but the device is still likely to be affected by many of the security issues that affect the iPhone, as well as some of its own.

Security experts polled by El Reg were concerned about a variety of risks, in particular phishing attacks and browser exploits.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, commented: "The iPad, from the sound of things, will be as locked down as the iPhone. Hackers will no doubt try to jailbreak it. But the main threat would be phishing and browser exploits."

Malware related risks may also trouble the iPad. The only risks to affect the iPhone to date have relied on a very small but well publicised number of worms (e.g. ikee) that exploited default passwords and open SSH shells on jailbroken iPhones.

However, while the iPad uses the same OS as the iPhone, it is more powerful; that means attacks based on doctored PDF files may potentially become a risk, explained Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs.

"The device is really close to an iPhone, so we should expect a similar security. However, unlike the iPhone, it would be able to open PDF documents by default.

"2009 has been a year with a number of different vulnerabilities exploited through PDF documents. So this will be one of the major risk vectors that the iPad will face when it arrives.

"The other major vector could be Flash, but this time Apple has decided not to include it in his browser, the same thing that happens in the iPhone."

Candid Wuesst, a senior security engineer at Symantec, agreed with Cluley that phishing attacks and browser exploits are the most immediate threat.

"Cybercriminals are after personal and financial information, and many of them employ social engineering tactics, like phishing attacks, that are platform agnostic," Wuesst said. "Regardless of the platform they’re using, consumers need to be aware of how to spot these threats and how not to fall victim to them."

Wuesst added that there are already a couple of dozen vulnerabilities with the Safari browser as it is, this device will offer another platform for these to be exploited. For surfers using the device to browse in hotspots, there's a rise if users are tricked into logging into fake Wi-Fi hotspots. Man-in-the-middle attacks are possible in this scenario.

"The existing iPhone is not very good on encrypting data. It is unclear iPad will be any better," he added. The iPhone OS only allows one (third-party) application at a time to run on the device so providing security software, which needs to run in the background, for either the iPhone or iPad is limited.

Bad news for Mac consumer security outfits such as Intego and Symantec, which we understand is evaluating the product to figure out what options it might have for offering consumers backup or anti-cybercrime technologies.

One enterprising firm in data forensics has already produced a security product, weeks before the iPad gets into the hands of customers. UK-based DiskLabs has quickly developed a military coloured Faraday bag for use in computer forensics work. The product is an extension of its existing range for mobile phones. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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