Day: September 17, 2014

Your iOS 8 Data is Not Beyond Law Enforcement’s Reach… Yet.

In a recent announcement, Apple stated that they no longer unlock iOS (8) devices for law enforcement.

On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

This is a significantly pro-privacy (and courageous) posture Apple is taking with their devices, and while about seven years late, is more than welcome. In fact, I am very impressed with Apple’s latest efforts to beef up security all around, including iOS 8 and iCloud’s new 2FA. I believe Tim Cook to be genuine in his commitment to user privacy; perhaps I’m one of the few who can see just how gutsy this move with iOS 8 is.

It’s important to take a minute, however, to note that this does not mean that the police can’t get to your data. What Apple has done here is create for themselves plausible deniability in what they will do for law enforcement. If we take this statement at face value, what has likely happened in iOS 8 is that photos, messages, and other sensitive data, which was previously only encrypted with hardware-based keys, is now being encrypted with keys derived from a PIN or passcode. No doubt this does improve security for everyone, by marrying encryption to the PIN (something they ought to have been doing all along). While it’s technically possible to brute force a PIN code, that doesn’t mean it’s technically feasible, and thus lets Apple off the hook in terms of legal obligation. Add a complex passcode into the mix, and it gets even uglier, having to choose any of a number of dictionary style attacks to get into your encrypted data. By redesigning the file system in this fashion (if this is the case), Apple has afforded themselves the ability to say, “the phone’s data is encrypted with a PIN or passphrase, and so we’re not legally required to hack it for you guys, so go pound sand”. I am quite impressed, Mr. Cook! That took courage… but it does not mean that your data is beyond law enforcement’s reach.

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An Open Letter to Tim Cook and Apple’s Security Team

Greetings!

You may not know me, but you probably know my research over the years. I’ve been researching security on Apple devices since 2007, when iPhone first came out, and even helped put together the very first jailbreaks. I’ve assisted law enforcement and military with forensics tools and support on iDevices, and had already started helping to make our world a much better place before Apple even had a law enforcement process. Additionally, I’ve written several books on iPhone ranging from development, to security, to forensics. Throughout my time researching Apple, I’ve found many vulnerabilities that affect the privacy of your customers (including me!), and have presented findings at numerous security and forensics conferences, including Black Hat, Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE), Mobile Forensics World, Techno Security, HTCIA, and others. Never asked you to feature my books in your store (even when mine were the only iPhone books), never asked for free products, invites to anything, or felt entitled to anything. I love Apple products, and that’s why it’s been a fun experience to tinker with them, and it feels good to know that I’ve played a small, but consistent role in seeing their security improve over time.

You know what’s not fun? When I work very hard on a research paper, go to the trouble of submitting it to a scientific journal, and pay out of my own pocket to travel to a conference to present my findings only to have Apple silently sweep the vulnerabilities I’ve discovered under the rug without ever disclosing their existence, the patches you’ve made, or giving the researcher proper credit in your security release notes. Today, you released your security notes for iOS 8, and guess what wasn’t in them? Almost all of the things you fixed in Beta 5, that came directly from my research paper. Shortly after my research made national news, Apple fixed a number of these serious vulnerabilities that – at best – were the product of horribly sloppy engineering. Not small issues, either, mind you – issues that allowed for persistent, wireless surveillance of iOS devices, wirelessly intercepting packet data, and bypassing the consumer’s backup encryption password to scrape highly sensitive consumer data (including SMS, photo album, geolocation database, and more) from the device using a number of undisclosed services Apple had never told the public even existed and were running on all 600 million consumer devices, in spite of the fact that numerous commercial law enforcement forensics tools were actively exploiting these services to dump highly sensitive content from consumers’ mobile devices.

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Is Apple’s new 2FA Really Secure? (Answer: It’s Pretty Solid)

I’ve recently updated my TL;DR regarding the recent celebrity iCloud hacks. I now summarize Apple’s latest changes to improve their 2-factor authentication (2FA) . Apple has implemented not just a band-aid, but a very good security solution to protect iCloud accounts, by completely reinventing their own 2-step validation (sorry, I couldn’t resist). As a result, users who have activated this feature will need to provide a one-time validation code in order to access their iCloud account from a web browser, or to provision iCloud from an iOS device. As my TL;DR suggests, this new technical measure would have prevented the celebrity iCloud hacks. So are Apple’s new techniques really secure, even in light of the very technically un-savvy users who fall victim to iCloud phishing attacks?

While Apple has done their part to improve the security of iCloud, less than savvy users can still screw it up. First of all, by not having the feature turned on in the first place. Apple’s two-step validation process is opt-in, and therefore it’s important to make sure that users know about and understand the benefits to enabling this feature. In my opinion, Apple should force users to have this feature on if they enable Photo Stream or iCloud Backups, as they are likely to keep sensitive content in the cloud without necessarily knowing it.

So you’re more savvy than that. You’ve already activated the new 2FA on your iCloud account. Are you truly safe from future phishing attacks?

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