They’re using commercial phones, which go through the Ukrainian telecom network:
“You still have a lot of soldiers bringing cellphones to the frontline who want to talk to their families and they are either being intercepted as they go through a Ukrainian telecommunications provider or intercepted over the air,” said Alperovitch. “That doesn’t pose too much difficulty for the Ukrainian security services.”
“Security has always been a mess, both in the army and among defence officials,” the source said. “For example, in 2013 they tried to get all the staff at the ministry of defence to replace our iPhones with Russian-made Yoto smartphones.
“But everyone just kept using the iPhone as a second mobile because it was much better. We would just keep the iPhone in the car’s glove compartment for when we got back from work. In the end, the ministry gave up and stopped caring. If the top doesn’t take security very seriously, how can you expect any discipline in the regular army?”
This isn’t a new problem and it isn’t a Russian problem. Here’s a more general article on the problem from 2020.
Posted on December 21, 2022 at 7:09 AM •
The most recent iPhone update—to version 16.2—patches a zero-day vulnerability that “may have been actively exploited against versions of iOS released before iOS 15.1.”
Apple said security researchers at Google’s Threat Analysis Group, which investigates nation state-backed spyware, hacking and cyberattacks, discovered and reported the WebKit bug.
WebKit bugs are often exploited when a person visits a malicious domain in their browser (or via the in-app browser). It’s not uncommon for bad actors to find vulnerabilities that target WebKit as a way to break into the device’s operating system and the user’s private data. WebKit bugs can be “chained” to other vulnerabilities to break through multiple layers of a device’s defenses.
Posted on December 16, 2022 at 7:04 AM •
Apple has introduced lockdown mode for high-risk users who are concerned about nation-state attacks. It trades reduced functionality for increased security in a very interesting way.
Posted on July 8, 2022 at 9:18 AM •
Researchers have demonstrated iPhone malware that works even when the phone is fully shut down.
t turns out that the iPhone’s Bluetooth chip—which is key to making features like Find My work—has no mechanism for digitally signing or even encrypting the firmware it runs. Academics at Germany’s Technical University of Darmstadt figured out how to exploit this lack of hardening to run malicious firmware that allows the attacker to track the phone’s location or run new features when the device is turned off.
The research is the first—or at least among the first—to study the risk posed by chips running in low-power mode. Not to be confused with iOS’s low-power mode for conserving battery life, the low-power mode (LPM) in this research allows chips responsible for near-field communication, ultra wideband, and Bluetooth to run in a special mode that can remain on for 24 hours after a device is turned off.
The research is fascinating, but the attack isn’t really feasible. It requires a jailbroken phone, which is hard to pull off in an adversarial setting.
Posted on May 18, 2022 at 6:06 AM •
A Berlin-based company has developed an AirTag clone that bypasses Apple’s anti-stalker security systems. Source code for these AirTag clones is available online.
So now we have several problems with the system. Apple’s anti-stalker security only works with iPhones. (Apple wrote an Android app that can detect AirTags, but how many people are going to download it?) And now non-AirTags can piggyback on Apple’s system without triggering the alarms.
Apple didn’t think this through nearly as well as it claims to have. I think the general problem is one that I have written about before: designers just don’t have intimate threats in mind when building these systems.
Posted on February 23, 2022 at 6:28 AM •
Researchers have figured how how to intercept and fake an iPhone reboot:
We’ll dissect the iOS system and show how it’s possible to alter a shutdown event, tricking a user that got infected into thinking that the phone has been powered off, but in fact, it’s still running. The “NoReboot” approach simulates a real shutdown. The user cannot feel a difference between a real shutdown and a “fake shutdown.” There is no user-interface or any button feedback until the user turns the phone back “on.”
It’s a complicated hack, but it works.
Uses are obvious:
Historically, when malware infects an iOS device, it can be removed simply by restarting the device, which clears the malware from memory.
However, this technique hooks the shutdown and reboot routines to prevent them from ever happening, allowing malware to achieve persistence as the device is never actually turned off.
I see this as another manifestation of the security problems that stem from all controls becoming software controls. Back when the physical buttons actually did things—like turn the power, the Wi-Fi, or the camera on and off—you could actually know that something was on or off. Now that software controls those functions, you can never be sure.
Posted on January 12, 2022 at 6:15 AM •
Matt Blaze tested a variety of Faraday cages for phones, both commercial and homemade.
The bottom line:
A quick and likely reliable “go/no go test” can be done with an Apple AirTag and an iPhone: drop the AirTag in the bag under test, and see if the phone can locate it and activate its alarm (beware of caching in the FindMy app when doing this).
This test won’t tell you the exact attenuation level, of course, but it will tell you if the attenuation is sufficient for most practical purposes. It can also detect whether an otherwise good bag has been damaged and compromised.
At least in the frequency ranges I tested, two commercial Faraday pouches (the EDEC OffGrid and Mission Darkness Window pouches) yielded excellent performance sufficient to provide assurance of signal isolation under most real-world circumstances. None of the makeshift solutions consistently did nearly as well, although aluminum foil can, under ideal circumstances (that are difficult to replicate) sometimes provide comparable levels of attenuation.
Posted on December 3, 2021 at 6:13 AM •
Citizen Lab is reporting on two zero-click iMessage exploits, in spyware sold by the cyberweapons arms manufacturer NSO Group to the Bahraini government.
These are particularly scary exploits, since they don’t require to victim to do anything, like click on a link or open a file. The victim receives a text message, and then they are hacked.
More on this here.
Posted on September 1, 2021 at 6:14 AM •
Apple’s NeuralHash algorithm—the one it’s using for client-side scanning on the iPhone—has been reverse-engineered.
Turns out it was already in iOS 14.3, and someone noticed:
Early tests show that it can tolerate image resizing and compression, but not cropping or rotations.
We also have the first collision: two images that hash to the same value.
The next step is to generate innocuous images that NeuralHash classifies as prohibited content.
This was a bad idea from the start, and Apple never seemed to consider the adversarial context of the system as a whole, and not just the cryptography.
Posted on August 18, 2021 at 11:51 AM •
The Washington Post has published a long story on the unlocking of the San Bernardino Terrorist’s iPhone 5C in 2016. We all thought it was an Israeli company called Cellebrite. It was actually an Australian company called Azimuth Security.
Azimuth specialized in finding significant vulnerabilities. Dowd, a former IBM X-Force researcher whom one peer called “the Mozart of exploit design,” had found one in open-source code from Mozilla that Apple used to permit accessories to be plugged into an iPhone’s lightning port, according to the person.
Using the flaw Dowd found, Wang, based in Portland, Ore., created an exploit that enabled initial access to the phone a foot in the door. Then he hitched it to another exploit that permitted greater maneuverability, according to the people. And then he linked that to a final exploit that another Azimuth researcher had already created for iPhones, giving him full control over the phone’s core processor the brains of the device. From there, he wrote software that rapidly tried all combinations of the passcode, bypassing other features, such as the one that erased data after 10 incorrect tries.
Apple is suing various companies over this sort of thing. The article goes into the details.
Posted on April 19, 2021 at 6:08 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.