iOS 12, the next release of Apple’s iPhone operating system, may include features to prevent someone from unlocking your phone without your permission:
The feature essentially forces users to unlock the iPhone with the passcode when connecting it to a USB accessory everytime the phone has not been unlocked for one hour. That includes the iPhone unlocking devices that companies such as Cellebrite or GrayShift make, which police departments all over the world use to hack into seized iPhones.
“That pretty much kills [GrayShift’s product] GrayKey and Cellebrite,” Ryan Duff, a security researcher who has studied iPhone and is Director of Cyber Solutions at Point3 Security, told Motherboard in an online chat. “If it actually does what it says and doesn’t let ANY type of data connection happen until it’s unlocked, then yes. You can’t exploit the device if you can’t communicate with it.”
This is part of a bunch of security enhancements in iOS 12:
Other enhancements include tools for generating strong passwords, storing them in the iCloud keychain, and automatically entering them into Safari and iOS apps across all of a user’s devices. Previously, standalone apps such as 1Password have done much the same thing. Now, Apple is integrating the functions directly into macOS and iOS. Apple also debuted new programming interfaces that allow users to more easily access passwords stored in third-party password managers directly from the QuickType bar. The company also announced a new feature that will flag reused passwords, an interface that autofills one-time passwords provided by authentication apps, and a mechanism for sharing passwords among nearby iOS devices, Macs, and Apple TVs.
A separate privacy enhancement is designed to prevent websites from tracking people when using Safari. It’s specifically designed to prevent share buttons and comment code on webpages from tracking people’s movements across the Web without permission or from collecting a device’s unique settings such as fonts, in an attempt to fingerprint the device.
The last additions of note are new permission dialogues macOS Mojave will display before allowing apps to access a user’s camera or microphone. The permissions are designed to thwart malicious software that surreptitiously turns on these devices in an attempt to spy on users. The new protections will largely mimic those previously available only through standalone apps such as one called Oversight, developed by security researcher Patrick Wardle. Apple said similar dialog permissions will protect the file system, mail database, message history, and backups.
Posted on June 12, 2018 at 6:23 AM •
Researchers have demonstrated the ability to send inaudible commands to voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.
Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online —simply with music playing over the radio.
A group of students from University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website.
This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.
Posted on May 15, 2018 at 6:13 AM •
“Do Not Disturb” is a Macintosh app that send an alert when the lid is opened. The idea is to detect computer tampering.
Do Not Disturb goes a step further than just the push notification. Using the Do Not Disturb iOS app, a notified user can send themselves a picture snapped with the laptop’s webcam to catch the perpetrator in the act, or they can shut down the computer remotely. The app can also be configured to take more custom actions like sending an email, recording screen activity, and keeping logs of commands executed on the machine.
Can someone please make one of these for Windows?
Posted on April 24, 2018 at 6:04 AM •
Apple is bowing to pressure from the Chinese government and storing encryption keys in China. While I would prefer it if it would take a stand against China, I really can’t blame it for putting its business model ahead of its desires for customer privacy.
Two more articles.
Posted on February 28, 2018 at 6:19 AM •
Forbes reports that the Israeli company Cellebrite can probably unlock all iPhone models:
Cellebrite, a Petah Tikva, Israel-based vendor that’s become the U.S. government’s company of choice when it comes to unlocking mobile devices, is this month telling customers its engineers currently have the ability to get around the security of devices running iOS 11. That includes the iPhone X, a model that Forbes has learned was successfully raided for data by the Department for Homeland Security back in November 2017, most likely with Cellebrite technology.
It also appears the feds have already tried out Cellebrite tech on the most recent Apple handset, the iPhone X. That’s according to a warrant unearthed by Forbes in Michigan, marking the first known government inspection of the bleeding edge smartphone in a criminal investigation. The warrant detailed a probe into Abdulmajid Saidi, a suspect in an arms trafficking case, whose iPhone X was taken from him as he was about to leave America for Beirut, Lebanon, on November 20. The device was sent to a Cellebrite specialist at the DHS Homeland Security Investigations Grand Rapids labs and the data extracted on December 5.
This story is based on some excellent reporting, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. We don’t know exactly what was extracted from any of the phones. Was it metadata or data, and what kind of metadata or data was it.
The story I hear is that Cellebrite hires ex-Apple engineers and moves them to countries where Apple can’t prosecute them under the DMCA or its equivalents. There’s also a credible rumor that Cellebrite’s mechanisms only defeat the mechanism that limits the number of password attempts. It does not allow engineers to move the encrypted data off the phone and run an offline password cracker. If this is true, then strong passwords are still secure.
EDITED TO ADD (3/1): Another article, with more information. It looks like there’s an arms race going on between Apple and Cellebrite. At least, if Cellebrite is telling the truth—which they may or may not be.
Posted on February 27, 2018 at 5:58 AM •
Susan Landau has written a terrific book on cybersecurity threats and why we need strong crypto. Listening In: Cybersecurity in an Insecure Age. It’s based in part on her 2016 Congressional testimony in the Apple/FBI case; it examines how the Digital Revolution has transformed society, and how law enforcement needs to—and can—adjust to the new realities. The book is accessible to techies and non-techies alike, and is strongly recommended.
And if you’ve already read it, give it a review on Amazon. Reviews sell books, and this one needs more of them.
Posted on January 10, 2018 at 1:42 PM •
The story of the recent vulnerability in Apple’s HomeKit.
Posted on December 21, 2017 at 6:49 AM •
It only took a week:
On Friday, Vietnamese security firm Bkav released a blog post and video showing that—by all appearances—they’d cracked FaceID with a composite mask of 3-D-printed plastic, silicone, makeup, and simple paper cutouts, which in combination tricked an iPhone X into unlocking.
The article points out that the hack hasn’t been independently confirmed, but I have no doubt it’s true.
I don’t think this is cause for alarm, though. Authentication will always be a trade-off between security and convenience. FaceID is another biometric option, and a good one. I wouldn’t be less likely to use it because of this.
FAQ from the researchers.
Posted on November 15, 2017 at 6:54 AM •
This is an interesting security vulnerability: because it is so easy to impersonate iOS password prompts, a malicious app can steal your password just by asking.
Why does this work?
iOS asks the user for their iTunes password for many reasons, the most common ones are recently installed iOS operating system updates, or iOS apps that are stuck during installation.
As a result, users are trained to just enter their Apple ID password whenever iOS prompts you to do so. However, those popups are not only shown on the lock screen, and the home screen, but also inside random apps, e.g. when they want to access iCloud, GameCenter or In-App-Purchases.
This could easily be abused by any app, just by showing an UIAlertController, that looks exactly like the system dialog.
Even users who know a lot about technology have a hard time detecting that those alerts are phishing attacks.
The essay proposes some solutions, but I’m not sure they’ll work. We’re all trained to trust our computers and the applications running on them.
Posted on October 12, 2017 at 6:43 AM •
The Boston Red Sox admitted to eavesdropping on the communications channel between catcher and pitcher.
Stealing signs is believed to be particularly effective when there is a runner on second base who can both watch what hand signals the catcher is using to communicate with the pitcher and can easily relay to the batter any clues about what type of pitch may be coming. Such tactics are allowed as long as teams do not use any methods beyond their eyes. Binoculars and electronic devices are both prohibited.
In recent years, as cameras have proliferated in major league ballparks, teams have begun using the abundance of video to help them discern opponents’ signs, including the catcher’s signals to the pitcher. Some clubs have had clubhouse attendants quickly relay information to the dugout from the personnel monitoring video feeds.
But such information has to be rushed to the dugout on foot so it can be relayed to players on the field—a runner on second, the batter at the plate—while the information is still relevant. The Red Sox admitted to league investigators that they were able to significantly shorten this communications chain by using electronics. In what mimicked the rhythm of a double play, the information would rapidly go from video personnel to a trainer to the players.
This is ridiculous. The rules about what sorts of sign stealing are allowed and what sorts are not are arbitrary and unenforceable. My guess is that the only reason there aren’t more complaints is because everyone does it.
The Red Sox responded in kind on Tuesday, filing a complaint against the Yankees claiming that the team uses a camera from its YES television network exclusively to steal signs during games, an assertion the Yankees denied.
Boston’s mistake here was using a very conspicuous Apple Watch as a communications device. They need to learn to be more subtle, like everyone else.
Posted on September 22, 2017 at 6:21 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.