Entries Tagged "Apple"

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Law Enforcement Forensics Tools Against Smart Phones

Turns out the password can be easily bypassed:

XRY works by first jailbreaking the handset. According to Micro Systemation, no ‘backdoors’ created by Apple used, but instead it makes use of security flaws in the operating system the same way that regular jailbreakers do.

Once the iPhone has been jailbroken, the tool then goes on to ‘brute-force’ the passcode, trying every possible four digit combination until the correct password has been found. Given the limited number of possible combinations for a four-digit passcode—10,000, ranging from 0000 to 9999—this doesn’t take long.

Once the handset has been jailbroken and the passcode guessed, all the data on the handset, including call logs, messages, contacts, GPS data and even keystrokes, can be accessed and examined.

One of the morals is to use an eight-digit passcode.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): This has been debunked. The 1Password blog has a fairly lengthy post discussing the details of the XRY tool.

Posted on April 3, 2012 at 2:01 PMView Comments

Recent Developments in Full Disclosure

Last week, I had a long conversation with Robert Lemos over an article he was writing about full disclosure. He had noticed that companies have recently been reacting more negatively to security researchers publishing vulnerabilities about their products.

The debate over full disclosure is as old as computing, and I’ve written about it before. Disclosing security vulnerabilities is good for security and good for society, but vendors really hate it. It results in bad press, forces them to spend money fixing vulnerabilities, and comes out of nowhere. Over the past decade or so, we’ve had an uneasy truce between security researchers and product vendors. That truce seems to be breaking down.

Lemos believes the problem is that because today’s research targets aren’t traditional computer companies—they’re phone companies, or embedded system companies, or whatnot—they’re not aware of the history of the debate or the truce, and are responding more viscerally. For example, Carrier IQ threatened legal action against the researcher that outed it, and only backed down after the EFF got involved. I am reminded of the reaction of locksmiths to Matt Blaze’s vulnerability disclosures about lock security; they thought he was evil incarnate for publicizing hundred-year-old security vulnerabilities in lock systems. And just last week, I posted about a full-disclosure debate in the virology community.

I think Lemos has put his finger on part of what’s going on, but that there’s more. I think that companies, both computer and non-computer, are trying to retain control over the situation. Apple’s heavy-handed retaliation against researcher Charlie Miller is an example of that. On one hand, Apple should know better than to do this. On the other hand, it’s acting in the best interest of its brand: the fewer researchers looking for vulnerabilities, the fewer vulnerabilities it has to deal with.

It’s easy to believe that if only people wouldn’t disclose problems, we could pretend they didn’t exist, and everything would be better. Certainly this is the position taken by the DHS over terrorism: public information about the problem is worse than the problem itself. It’s similar to Americans’ willingness to give both Bush and Obama the power to arrest and indefinitely detain any American without any trial whatsoever. It largely explains the common public backlash against whistle-blowers. What we don’t know can’t hurt us, and what we do know will also be known by those who want to hurt us.

There’s some profound psychological denial going on here, and I’m not sure of the implications of it all. It’s worth paying attention to, though. Security requires transparency and disclosure, and if we willingly give that up, we’re a lot less safe as a society.

Posted on December 6, 2011 at 7:31 AMView Comments

Hacking Apple Laptop Batteries

Interesting:

Security researcher Charlie Miller, widely known for his work on Mac OS X and Apple’s iOS, has discovered an interesting method that enables him to completely disable the batteries on Apple laptops, making them permanently unusable, and perform a number of other unintended actions. The method, which involves accessing and sending instructions to the chip housed on smart batteries could also be used for more malicious purposes down the road.

[…]

What he found is that the batteries are shipped from the factory in a state called “sealed mode” and that there’s a four-byte password that’s required to change that. By analyzing a couple of updates that Apple had sent to fix problems in the batteries in the past, Miller found that password and was able to put the battery into “unsealed mode.”

From there, he could make a few small changes to the firmware, but not what he really wanted. So he poked around a bit more and found that a second password was required to move the battery into full access mode, which gave him the ability to make any changes he wished. That password is a default set at the factory and it’s not changed on laptops before they’re shipped. Once he had that, Miller found he could do a lot of interesting things with the battery.

“That lets you access it at the same level as the factory can,” he said. “You can read all the firmware, make changes to the code, do whatever you want. And those code changes will survive a reinstall of the OS, so you could imagine writing malware that could hide on the chip on the battery. You’d need a vulnerability in the OS or something that the battery could then attack, though.”

As components get smarter, they also get more vulnerable.

Posted on July 29, 2011 at 6:54 AMView Comments

iPhone Iris Scanning Technology

No indication about how well it works:

The smartphone-based scanner, named Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, is made by BI2 Technologies in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and can be deployed by officers out on the beat or back at the station.

An iris scan, which detects unique patterns in a person’s eyes, can reduce to seconds the time it takes to identify a suspect in custody. This technique also is significantly more accurate than results from other fingerprinting technology long in use by police, BI2 says.

When attached to an iPhone, MORIS can photograph a person’s face and run the image through software that hunts for a match in a BI2-managed database of U.S. criminal records. Each unit costs about $3,000.

[…]

Roughly 40 law enforcement units nationwide will soon be using the MORIS, including Arizona’s Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, as well as officers in Hampton City in Virginia and Calhoun County in Alabama.

Posted on July 26, 2011 at 6:51 AMView Comments

Protecting Private Information on Smart Phones

AppFence is a technology—with a working prototype—that protects personal information on smart phones. It does this by either substituting innocuous information in place of sensitive information or blocking attempts by the application to send the sensitive information over the network.

The significance of systems like AppFence is that they have the potential to change the balance of power in privacy between mobile application developers and users. Today, application developers get to choose what information an application will have access to, and the user faces a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: users must either grant all the permissions requested by the application developer or abandon installation. Take-it-or-leave it offers may make it easier for applications to obtain access to information that users don’t want applications to have. Many applications take advantage of this to gain access to users’ device identifiers and location for behavioral tracking and advertising. Systems like AppFence could make it harder for applications to access these types of information without more explicit consent and cooperation from users.

The problem is that the mobile OS providers might not like AppFence. Google probably doesn’t care, but Apple is one of the biggest consumers of iPhone personal information. Right now, the prototype only works on Android, because it requires flashing the phone. In theory, the technology can be made to work on any mobile OS, but good luck getting Apple to agree to it.

Posted on June 24, 2011 at 6:37 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.