Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology will be presenting a method for hacking Apple's mobile devices using a "charger" at the next Black Hat security conference. The claim is that everyone is at risk. There's a lot of speculation regarding the announcement, with many finding the claim a little bit dubious, including myself.Among other things, if the claim is true, it would turn mobile security solutions into minced meat and lay waste to government certifications like the DOD's recent stamp of approval for iOS devices in the military.
It seems the details will be unveiled at the Black Hat conference but theverge.com reveals the barebones: that the hacking process makes use of a fake "charger" (It's a different kind of computer trojan, if you will). Plug you device into this device and your iPhone, iPod, or iPad are compromised:According to the researchers, "all users" are at risk, as the hack doesn't require any user interaction. Hackers are even capable of hiding the applications, so they don't show up in the device's app list. It's not clear if the charger is able to upload malicious code — Apple's iOS devices, by default, are "sandboxed" and will only install and run properly signed apps — but this is a worrying development regardless. [theverge.com]The article goes on to describe the charger: a standalone Linux computer (a BeagleBone) that is the size of a credit card.To be honest, it's a little bit bigger than that: while the width and length might be the size of a credit card, it looks to have the thickness of a slim point-and-shoot camera as it needs to accommodate DC input and Ethernet ports.But, regardless of what actual size of the device might be, the possibilities are a bit worrying. We know that miniaturization tends to mimic, if not follow, Moore's Law, so getting the size down is just a matter of time.And yet, this dystopian vision is not without its critics and detractors.
According to the researchers, "all users" are at risk, as the hack doesn't require any user interaction. Hackers are even capable of hiding the applications, so they don't show up in the device's app list. It's not clear if the charger is able to upload malicious code — Apple's iOS devices, by default, are "sandboxed" and will only install and run properly signed apps — but this is a worrying development regardless. [theverge.com]
Many who have heard this news don't consider it news. Why? Because it sounds like jailbreaking. Consider the "charger." It's a full fledged computer. You connect the iDevice to this computer, which runs a number of programs, and voila, your device is hacked.How is this not jailbreaking? If it is jailbreaking, then it succumbs to the usual problems that such a threat possesses, such as the attacker having to gain possession of the iPhone or iPad to be hacked. For example, the Georgia Tech hack requires that (1) they get their hands on your device or (2) they need to swap out your regular charger with theirs (and hope you don't question the behemoth that's taken your charger's place).Now you see how saying "everyone's at risk" can seem like a bit of a stretch. That phrase ought to be reserved for problems like "drive-by" jailbreaks from a couple of years ago, where just visiting a particular site using Safari could compromise your device.
Jailbroken devices pose a problem. By definition, it means they're not as secure as they could be. For companies that are engaged in BYOD and other mobile-centric endeavors, it pays to have a mobile device management (MDM) solution that detects jailbreaks. Otherwise, the risks stemming from the use of mobile devices in the workplace – be it the introduction of malware into the network to a data breach when a device is lost or stolen – become significantly greater.You might think that jailbreak protection would be exponentially better than jailbreak detection, and there's no argument there. However, jailbreak protection is nothing but a pipe dream: it's like trying to prove something doesn't exist, or preventing all crimes before they happen (as in the movie "Minority Report").Aside from an official company policy that does not allow jailbroken devices on the network, jailbreak detection is the second best thing you can have: it allows a company to ensure that policy is being followed as well as take action if it's not (and why its results are featured prominently in our cloud-based BYOD security management dashboard).