Category Archives: Apple

Is the Apple Losing its Shine?

Last week there were multiple reports that Petah Tekvah, Israel based Cellebrite could unlock any iPhone up to and including the iPhone X running the most current version of the Apple OS, but you had to send the phone to them along with a check for $1,500, per phone.

This week there is a report that Grayshift, an American startup, is reporting that it too can unlock your iPhone for the cops.

Wait, I just got a phone call.  My grandmother says that she can unlock any iPhone and she will do it for free.  Just kidding about that one, but two different companies, one week apart are saying they can hack any iPhone.  This seems really strange.

Grayshift was apparently founded by some U.S. intelligence community contractors and a former Apple security engineer.

They are privately circulating a data sheet that says that if you buy their software you can unlock 300 phones for $15,000 or an unlimited number of phones for $30,000.  The cheap version (a relative term) must be used online (so, I assume, that you cannot cheat them);  the expensive version can be used offline since it doesn’t need to keep track of how many phones you have unlocked.

The software itself is called GrayKey.

Apparently, right now, GrayKey will only unlock phones running iOS 10 and 11 – which is likely the majority of iPhones, but a version that will unlock iOS 9 is coming soon.

One guess is that these firms have figured out how to hack into Apple’s Secure Enclave, the heart of the security of the iPhone.  *IF* that is true, that is a real problem.  Of course Apple could figure out what both of these firms are doing and make them start over.  In the case of GrayKey, since the system is delivered to a paying customer, if Apple engineers can, somehow, get access to the system they can probably figure out what the software exploits.

It is also speculated that the attack might be a brute force attack, meaning that it starts with “A” and goes to “B” and then “C” and so on until it unlocks the phone.  Again, *IF* this is true, the longer the password is, the harder it is to use this technique.  For example, if the password is 8 characters and only uses letters and numbers, then there are ONLY 218,340,105,584,896 or 218 trillion possible guesses.  On the other hand, a 12 character password raises that number to 3,226,266,762,397,899,821,056 or 3 sextillion possibilities.  Passwords longer than 12 characters would require even more guesses.

The moral of this story is that long passwords, even with just upper and lower case letters plus numbers and no special characters will take a long time to crack.  One article said that a 12 character password would take 200 years to crack at a billion guesses per second.  If it does take that long, even if they do succeed, you won’t care.  Using that same billion guesses a second, an 8 character password would only take 60 hours.

I think this story is not over;  stay tuned for updates.

Information for this post came from Forbes.

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The Feds (and Others) Can Probably Unlock Any iPhone Ever Made

Here’s something you don’t hear every day.

Cellebrite, a cell phone hacking vendor based in Petah Tikvah, Israel, claims that they can unlock any iPhone ever made, including the iPhone X running iOS 11.2.6 .

Cellebrite, who offers their services to the highest bidder – mostly law enforcement and governments, both ones that have a better track record with privacy and those that have a horrible privacy record such as Russia – has  made a business out of offering forensics services pretty much to anyone who’s check will clear.  That is probably being a bit unfair, but they were hacked themselves last year and from the data that was released, the statement above does not appear to be too far off.

In any case, typically the newer phones are harder to hack.  You may remember that the FBI paid someone over a million dollars to hack into the iPhone of the San Bernadino shooter after the FBI did not reach out to Apple in a timely manner and get directions on how to unlock it.  In the case of iPhones, usually waiting is your enemy because after a phone is locked for too long, extra security features kick in making it harder to unlock.

Apple adds new security features with every release, so it is especially embarrassing to Apple that their newest flagship phone – one that costs over a thousand dollars at retail – running its newest operating system can, apparently,  be popped open like a can of Coke or Pepsi.

This hacking process is typically a cat and mouse game – the hackers figure out how to break in and Apple fixes it after they find out and the process starts over.

In this case,  in order to maintain their revenue stream for as long as possible, Cellebrite has added a twist to the unlock process.

Normally the unlock features are added to their software which police departments and repressive governments license for an annual fee.  This time the agency has to send the phone to Cellebrite which will charge them a fee of around $1,500 per phone to unlock and they will return the phone unlocked.

Lets say that governments and others send them just 1,000 phones – the NY DA alone said that he had 400 phones that he would like unlocked, so that number is stupid low – then that would generate an extra million and a half dollars to their revenue for the year.

The other thing that it does is protect the bug that they found from being identified and fixed by Apple.  There are likely businesses who are friendly to Apple and who have licensed Cellebrite’s software.  If unlock feature was added to the software then Apple would connect a test phone with extra debug features to the Cellebrite software and likely figure out exactly what Cellebrite is exploiting so that they can plug the hole.

So this method – forcing the cops to write a check and send them the phone both provides a major revenue boost and preserves the bug for a longer time.

All that not withstanding, I am sure that Apple is scratching their collective heads trying to figure out what Cellebrite is doing.

And, just to be clear, this is not a theoretical issue.  Homeland Security has already written a check to get at least one iPhone X unlocked.

If you are a terrorist or someone who would prefer that the feds or other repressive governments can’t see what is on your phone, do not count on Apple to be able to provide that to you, at least for now.

Information for this post came from Forbes.

 

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Apple is Trying to Catch up With Windows

Update: Apparently if you are running macOS 10.13 and apply the patch to fix the root problem and then upgrade to 10.13.1, that patch gets undone, so you have to reapply the patch.  In addition, the patch does not take effect unless you reboot.  Just another bit of the mess.

The Mac OS has generally been considered a secure operating system, but lately Apple has been trying to imitate their friends from Redmond and not in a good way.

The first MacOS bug found recently is a new bug.  Linux and Unix administrator accounts are called ROOT, unlike Windows and other operating systems which call the account ADMIN or ADMINISTRATOR.  Apparently in the current version of MacOS, High Sierra, if you entered the user name of ROOT with no password, you got an error message, but if you entered it a second time with no password, it let you in with full administrative permissions.

Initially, people thought that this exploit required that you have local access to the computer, but it turned out that if you had remote access turned on as many or most corporate computers do, the attack would work remotely as well.

Apparently the OS detected there was no ROOT account and created one with no password.  The quick fix was to create a ROOT account with a complex password.

Apple quickly created a fix that was automatically and silently installed (I guess that is both good and bad), but that fix broke some other things and Apple had to release a fix to the fix.  That second fix had to be manually installed and required some advanced gyrations on the part of the user.

The good news was that Apple was able to fix the bug quickly once they were told about it.  The bad news is that if a user’s PC was compromised before the installed the patch – which statistically is possible but unlikely – then the only solution is to wipe the disk and start over.

But this was only the start of last month’s problems for Apple.

The second MacOS bug, which also granted users unlimited ROOT access had been around for at least a decade (sound like Windows again?), maybe two decades. or more.

The person who found it was neither a professional hacker nor a professional security researcher, but rather a self titled hobbyist.  This means that other people (and not the well intentioned ones) could have known about it for 20 years or more.

The bug was in the IOHIDF family of software.  This software has been a problem child in the past.  The hobbyist who discovered it released a proof of concept for all of the hackers to follow at the same time he announced the bug.

As of 17 hours ago, Apple had yet to comment on it, but I assume that their engineers are busy working on how to fix it.

Right now it counts as an 0-day, and a nasty one.  0-days are bugs that were not (publicly) known about prior to the announcement.  Except that in this case, it was probably known about by others, such as the Chinese, Russians or American spies and possibly exploited – maybe for many years.

For a while, Apple computers seemed to be immune to bugs.  I don’t think that is necessarily because the software is super secure, but rather because it is a niche player with a small market share (less than 8 percent according to NetMarketShare).  As other operating systems were attacked and started fixing bugs, MacOS became the next target of opportunity.

So, in this case, one bug is fixed, albeit a bit bumpily and the other is still open.

Happy New Year Mac users!

Information for this post came from CNet, The Guardian and BetaNews.

 

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Hackers Fool iPhone FaceID for $150

It usually doesn’t take very long.  Whether it is fooling the fingerprint reader or jailbreaking an iPhone, it often comes within hours of a new device or software release.  Maybe, in this case, it says that Apple did good because it took a week to break Face ID.

On the other hand, it only took about $150 to do it.

Wired spent thousands trying to create 3D masks and were unable to fool it,  but some hackers in Vietnam it on a budget.

In Apple’s defense, they did have to spend about 5 minutes videoing the subject to get good data, but if you are going after a politician or a celebrity, getting 5 minutes of HiDef video will not be a problem.

The first thing they did is take the video and make a 3D printed frame for the attack.

Next they added a silicon nose.

Finally, they 2D printed (like on a piece of paper) the user’s eyes and attached them to the mask,

In the demo, when they uncovered the mask, the iPhone X unlocked.

So much for security on your $1,000 phone.

Probably, for the average person, the level of security FaceID provides is adequate.

But remember, the iPhone X is a status symbol, not a phone.  Who is going to buy them are business executives on expense accounts and politicians using other people’s money.   Those are great targets for the bad guys and worth, for sure, spending $150 to compromise their phone.

In fairness to Apple, the researchers have not revealed enough details to enable people to recreate this.

In fairness to the researchers, they have presented previous hacks of Lenovo and Toshiba facial recognition at Black Hat.

So, depending on your level of concern regarding the security of your phone, a good old password is likely best.  Make it reasonably long and avoid the glitz.

For the billionaires who buy an iPhone X, you might want to reconsider your proclivity for convenience over security and steer clear of FaceID.

Your call.

Information for this post came from Wired.

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The Spy Among Us

Multiple sources are reporting a feature of iPhone apps that is a major privacy concern.  This is not new and it also is an issue on Android phones, but, for some reason, everyone seems to be highlighting the problem with iPhones.  PERHAPS, that is because it it is being exploited in the wild on iPhones – I don’t know.

The short version goes like this –

IF you EVER allow an app to access your phone’s cameras, you have lost control of it.  That app can access your camera – both front facing and rear facing – whenever it wants to.  It does not have to ask you to access the camera.

You are trusting that app not to abuse that trust.

Actually, it kind of depends on whether YOU installed the app or someone else installed it – with or without your knowledge.  For example, here are 5 spying apps that people intentionally install.  It may be a parent or a spouse, but it is likely not you who installed the app.  Sometimes parents want to track what their kids are doing.  Sometimes a spouse wants to spy on their significant other.

The app could upload the photos to the net and/or it could process the images – say to examine your facial images as you look at the screen.

One part of the problem is that there is no indication that the camera, front or back, is on.  As a side note, while there is a light on many PCs indicating the camera is running, that is a bit of software and the camera COULD be turned on without the light being on.

Apple (and Google) could change the camera rules and require the user to approve camera access every single time the camera wants to turn on – but that would be inconvenient.

One of my contacts at the FBI forwarded an alert about this today, so I suspect that this is being actively exploited.

The FBI gave a couple of suggestions –

  1. Only install apps from the official app store, not anyplace else.
  2. Don’t click on links in emails

In reality, the only recommendation that the FBI made that will actually work is this next one:

3. Place a piece of tape over the front and rear camera.

Ponder this thought –

The camera sits on your table in front of you;  it is in your bedroom, potentially capturing whatever you do there; it is in your bathroom. You get the idea.

Just in case your were not paranoid enough before.

Information for this post came from The Hacker News and The Register.

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Beware of Shady Repair Shops

A report presented this month at the 2017 Usenix Workshop on Offensive Technologies was pretty offensive – and not in the way they meant in the workshop title.

Offensive security is what spies do – go out and attack a system.

The report demonstrated a proof of concept attack that would work if someone took their phone into some repair place.  The attack, works by surreptitiously inserting hardware, say behind a replacement for a cracked screen, that “added” a few “features”.

They demonstrated putting these hacked screens into two Android phones – an Huewai and a Nexus – but they say the attack will work with iPhones as well.

This attack works because the manufacturers assume a trust boundary, meaning that they trust that the hardware has not been compromised.  In this case, that trust is broken.

In reality, this is nothing new.  Stories abound of PC and Mac repair places inserting extra software and sometimes even hardware into a computer to be able to monitor it.  There was a big dust-up a year or two ago when it was discovered that some repair technicians were being paid by the FBI to feed them information from computers in for repair.

In this case, the modified screen would be able to read the keyboard, capture screen patterns (for pattern screen locks), install malicious apps and take pictures and send them to the hacker.

All this for about ten bucks in parts.

The problem occurs because you lose control of the device – phone, tablet or computer – when you leave it with the repair person.

They say that this particular attack is so subtle that it is unlikely to be detected, even by another repair technician unless he or she knows what to look for.

The researchers say that there are some inexpensive countermeasures that manufacturers can add, but there is really nothing that you can do yourself.

They say that this attack could easily scale up to be done to a lot of phones and, of course, would also scale down to targeted phones.

As a user, the only thing that you can do is choose your repair center wisely.  If you can use a manufacturer’s repair center, that is probably less risky.  If not, then do your homework and check out the place and also ask them how they vet the individuals working on your device.

Great – something else to worry about.

For more details about the hack, see the article in Ars Technica.

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