Security researcher says iOS may be vulnerable to government snooping by design

password-cracker

Is iOS spying on you for Apple?

According to forensic scientist Jonathan Zdziarski, quite possibly: Several undocumented services run regularly in the background on over 600 million iOS devices, which could be sending data to Apple.

At a recent talk at the Hackers on Planet Earth conference in New York, Zdziarski identified “a number of undocumented high-value forensic services running on every iOS designs” and “suspicious design omissions in iOS that make collection easier.”

What does that mean? In short, Zdziarski showed that these services could be used to take forensic artifacts off an iPhone or iPad that should never leave the device. He says that while iOS is “reasonably secure” to a typical attacker, Apple itself and, by extension, the government, can gain access to this data relatively easily.

One problem is in the way that iOS 7 encrypts data. Since simply screen-locking your iPhone doesn’t encrypt the most recent data, the only way to trigger it manually is to shut down, or power off your iPhone. “Your device is almost always at risk of spilling all data, since it’s almost always authenticated, even while locked,” Zdziarski writes.

In conjunction with undocumented iOS services, this means that your iPhone’s encryption can be bypassed through USB, Wi-Fi and maybe even cellular. And the data itself seems useless for Genius Bar or carrier purposes.

Zdziarski is willing to admit that Apple may not have nefarious plans, but he asks the simple question: “Why is most of my user data still not encrypted with the PIN or passphrase, enabling the invasion of my personal privacy by YOU?” He concludes that Apple is dishing out a lot of data behind our backs, and that these make “tasty attack points for .gov and criminals.”

Could this be the next great iOS security scandal?

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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