For anyone enjoying my photography, I’m maintaining my favorite photos on 500px.
After some preliminary testing, it appears that a number of vulnerabilities reported in my recent research paper and subsequent talk at HOPE/X have been addressed by Apple in iOS 8. The research outlined a number of risks for wireless remote surveillance, deep logical forensics, and other types of potential privacy intrusions fitting certain threat models such as high profile diplomats or celebrities, targeted surveillance, or similar threats.
Given that Apple has dropped the NDA for iOS 8, it appears that I can write freely about the improvements they’ve made to address the vulnerabilities I’ve outlined in my paper. Here’s a summary of what’s been fixed, what risks still remain, and some steps you can take to help protect the data on your device.
The Nubble Lighthouse in Cape Neddick, ME sits on Nubble Island, just off shore. It’s one of Maine’s most beautiful lighthouses, and if you come at the right time of day, you can get right down onto the rocks near the ocean to get a good look. Everyone who photographs Nubble makes the mistake of zooming in with the telephoto, but I think you miss a lot of the fantastic detail around her. This is one of my favorite shots, taken from the rocks on the mainland at low tide.
(This document will continue to evolve as more information becomes available)
Earlier this week, a number of compromised celebrity iCloud accounts were leaked onto the Internet. Initially, @SwiftOnSecurity was kind enough to post some metadata at my request for exif information on two of the accounts’ files, and I’ve since gathered much more information including directory structures, file naming schemes, additional timestamp data, and other information through private channels.
I conducted a small experiment in advertising to see if Twitter’s new ads system was worth investing in. I targeted two of my AppStore products. The first, Ballistic: Advanced Edition, has been very successful over the past five years and has more than 60,000 users. It’s consistently one of the top 25 grossing utilities. It’s well established in the field as the gold standard for ballistics calculations in iOS, however I’ve never spent any money on advertising. Several blog sites have reviewed it, and the NRA featured it in their Rifleman magazine last winter, but no online ads have ever run. The second, a brand new product I’ve just released, Fitcubs, which is a fitness application for moms and dads that works with your kids’ Fitbit and automatically grants rewards, such as video game or computer time, based on their daily activity (such as calories burned or minutes active). It’s an entirely new and unique concept that I’m excited about. My kids are actually being more active to earn extra electronics time, and it’s nice to have an app to track their time, alert me when they’ve earned a reward, and set timers for when time is up – it’s fitness for them and sanity for me. Fitcubs is brand new and has only a very small user base, and virtually no advertising. So how did the results look after a day running in Twitter Ads?
In early 2014, I provided material support in what would end up turning around what was, in their own words, the US Army’s biggest case in a generation, and much to the dismay of the prosecution team that brought me in to assist them. In the process, it seems I also prevented what the evidence pointed to as an innocent man, facing 25 years in prison, from becoming a political scapegoat. While I would have thought other cases like US v. Manning would have been considered more important than this to the Army (and certainly to the public), this case – US v. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclar with the 18th Airborne Corps – could have seriously affected the Army directly, and in a more severe way. It was during this case that President Obama was doing his usual thing of making strongly worded comments with no real ideas about how to fix anything – this time against sexual abuse in the military. Simultaneously, however, the United States Congress was getting ramped up to vote on a military sexual harassment bill. At stake was a massive power grab from congress that would have resulted in stripping the Army of its authority to prosecute sexual harassment cases and other felonies. The Army maintaining their court martial powers in this area seemed to be the driving cause that made this case vastly more important to them than any other in recent history. At the heart of prosecuting Sinclair was the need to prove that the Army was competent enough to run their own courts. With that came what appeared to be a very strong need to make an example out of someone. I didn’t have a dog in this fight at all, but when the US Army comes asking for your help, of course you want to do what you can to serve your country. I made it clear, however, that I would deliver unbiased findings whether they favored the prosecution or not. After finishing my final reports and looking at all of the evidence, followed by the internal US Army drama that went with it, it became clear that this whole thing had – up until this point – involved too much politics and not enough fair trial.
I received word from the editor-in-chief that the author of an accepted paper has permission to publish it on his website, and so I am now making my research available to anyone who wishes to read it. The following paper, “Identifying back doors, attack points, and surveillance mechanisms in iOS devices” first appeared published in The International Journal of Digital Forensics and Incident Response in March 2014’s publication. The Editor-in-Chief is Eoghan Casey, with the Information Security Institute, John Hopkins University, Maryland. The editorial board consists of researchers from Google, Microsoft, LG, The Mitre Corporation, and a number of universities. This paper was the basis for my talk at the HOPE/X conference in NYC in July 2014. Please enjoy.
Security firm Stroz Friedberg has published findings validating the technical claims of my latest research, by independently reproducing them against iOS 7 and iOS 8 Beta 4 (NOTE: as I mentioned, Apple has already begun addressing these issues in Beta 5). Interestingly, the firm has also published an open-source proof of concept tool named unTRUST to allow users to remove pairing records from their iOS devices without wiping the device. I haven’t yet had a chance to test it, but this is most certainly good news. It also demonstrates that there is enough of a security threat that such proof-of-concept tools have come into existence.
I’m just learning of this paper myself and had not been previously contacted by the firm; and I think that is a good practice in validating someone else’s research – to evaluate and reproduce it independently. Whereas journalism, on the other hand, should always involve reaching out to the researcher to make sure people get their facts straight.
Direct link to the published paper can be found at the link below:
A few days after I gave a talk at the HOPE/X conference titled, “Identifying Backdoors, Attack Points, and Surveillance Mechanisms in iOS Devices”, ZDNet published what their senior editor has described privately to me as an opinion piece, however passed it off as a factual article in an attempt to make headlines at my expense. Now that things have had time to settle down, I’ve taken the time to calmly write up a post-mortem describing what actually happened as well as some behind-the-scenes details that may shed some light on the drama we’ve seen from ZDNet and one of its writers over the past couple of weeks. Let me say first that this is the last time I will address this matter, and have no desire to continue to discuss it, or engage with ZDNet or their writer. In fact, I haven’t engaged with either parties since this all transpired a week or so after my talk, in spite of repeated attempts to bait me with more personal attacks and false claims of harassment.
At HOPE/X, I gave a very carefully-worded talk describing a number of “high value forensic services” that had not been disclosed by Apple to the consumer (some not even to developers), such as the com.apple.mobile.file_relay service, which I admitted to the audience as having “no better word for” to describe than as a “backdoor” to bypass the consumer’s backup encryption on iOS devices. A number of news agencies reached out to me, and I took time to explain to each journalist that this was nothing to panic about, as the threat models were very limited (specifically geared towards law enforcement forensics and potentially foreign espionage). Also, that I did not believe there was any conspiracy here by Apple. Reporters from ARS Technica, Reuters, The Register, Tom’s Guide, InfoSec Institute, and a number of others spoke to me and got all the time they wanted. You can see that these journalists each published relatively balanced and non-alarmist stories; even The Register, who prides themselves on outlandish headlines, if you read their story, was actually quite level headed about the matter. A number of other news agencies, who had not reached out to me, published sensationalist stories with fabricated claims of an NSA conspiracy, secret backdoors, and other ridiculous nonsense. I tried very hard to throw cold water on those ideas both in my talk and in big letters on my first blog entry, with”DON’T PANIC” and instructions for journalists.
ZDNet was among the news agencies that had initially published a sensationalist story without approaching me first for questions.