VB2014 preview: Apple without a shell - iOS under targeted attack

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Sep 12, 2014

FireEye researchers show a large attack vector for Apple's mobile operating system.

In the weeks running up to VB2014 (the 24th Virus Bulletin International Conference), we are looking at some of the research that will be presented at the event. Today, we look at the paper 'Apple without a shell - iOS under targeted attack', by FireEye researchers Tao Wei, Min Zheng, Hui Xue and Dawn Song.

Whether you believe its success is because of superior products or merely superior marketing campaigns, Apple has once again made the headlines with the announcement of a new product. The Apple Watch is a wearable device that will be running the latest version of the company's mobile operating system, iOS.

Apple's millions of devoted fans regularly cite the company's security track record. In a recent conference preview we looked at various ways malware can persist on OS X, but the track record of iOS is stronger, with very few known malware cases. True, we recently published a paper on 'AdThief', which infected 75,000 iOS devices, but these were all jailbroken.

However, in their paper, the FireEye researchers look at how Apple's enterprise program provides a surprisingly large attack vector.

  Targeted attacks against iOS through enterprise provisioning.

Though not perfect, with more than 100 rules, Apple's review process makes it difficult for malware to make it into the App Store. One of the restrictions is that non-Apple apps are not allowed to make use of 'private APIs'. Apple is known to have banned apps that use these.

However, apps that are distributed through the 'iOS Developer Enterprise Program' - which allows a company to sign and distribute in-house apps - bypass this review process. Many vendors have used the enterprise program to distribute apps to the public.

  Using spear phishing to trick a user into installing an enterprise app.

Apple may revoke an enterprise distribution certificate if it suspects abuse; iOS uses a protocol called OCSP to validate enterprise certificates. However, a well-known weakness in OCSP means that inability to contact the OCSP server isn't considered a revocation - something an app can use during installation.

The fact that such apps have bypassed the review process allows them to automatically start after rebooting. Moreover, since private APIs are not intended to be used by app developers, they might not have been written as securely as the public APIs.

The researchers describe a number of vulnerabilities they found in private APIs that allow apps using them to monitor the phone's user, making them ideal for those performing targeted attacks.

  Monitoring a user's activity in the background.

Finally, they point to a conundrum in the iOS security model, where security apps are not allowed to implement system-level protections, whereas malware can use enterprise provisioning to call private APIs.

Unsurprisingly, given the prevalence of mobile devices and the growing concern over their security, the VB2014 programme includes various talks on mobile security, including several on Android and even one presentation on the Tizen platform.

Registration for VB2014 is still open.

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Martijn Grooten

twitter.png
fb.png
linkedin.png
hackernews.png
reddit.png

 

Latest posts:

VB2019 paper: The push from fiction for increased surveillance, and its impact on privacy

In a paper presented at VB2019 in London, researchers Miriam Cihodariu (Heimdal Security) and Andrei Bogdan Brad (Code4Romania) looked at how surveillance is represented in fiction and how these representations are shaping people's attitudes to…

VB2019 paper: Oops! It happened again!

At VB2019 in London industry veterans Righard Zwienenberg and Eddy Willems took a detailed look at the relationship between past and current cyber threats. Today, we publish both their paper and the recording of their presentation.

Job vacancy at VB: Security Evangelist

Virus Bulletin is recruiting for a person to be the public face of the company

VB2019 video: Thwarting Emotet email conversation thread hijacking with clustering

At VB2019 in London, ZEROSPAM researchers Pierre-Luc Vaudry and Olivier Coutu discussed how email clustering could be used to detect malicious Emotet emails that hijacked existing email threads. Today we publish the recording of their presentation.

VB2019 paper: A vine climbing over the Great Firewall: a long-term attack against China

Today we publish a VB2019 paper from Lion Gu and Bowen Pan from the Qi An Xin Threat Intelligence Center in China in which they analysed an APT group dubbed 'Poison Vine', which targeted various government, military and research institutes in China.

We have placed cookies on your device in order to improve the functionality of this site, as outlined in our cookies policy. However, you may delete and block all cookies from this site and your use of the site will be unaffected. By continuing to browse this site, you are agreeing to Virus Bulletin's use of data as outlined in our privacy policy.