Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Mobile

11/27/2019
12:00 PM
50%
50%

New Free Emulator Challenges Apple's Control of iOS

An open-source tool gives researchers and jailbreakers a free option for researching vulnerabilities in the operating system - and gives Apple a new headache.

A security researcher at Black Hat Europe in London next week plans to release an open source low-level emulator that can run a version of Apple's mobile operating system.

The project, based on the open-source machine emulator QEMU, will allow security researchers to have more access to iOS processes and operations, an advantage when searching for vulnerabilities and systems weaknesses, says Jonathan Afek, the leader of the emulation project and a security team research manager at dynamic-testing provider HCL AppScan.

Afek plans to demonstrate the iOS kernel running on a QEMU virtual machine as well as show ways of using the setup to search for vulnerabilities.

"Apple iPhones are quite secure, but all platforms have a lot of vulnerabilities in them," he says. "I think this platform, quote-unquote, in its current stage, it will make life easier for researchers and make the iPhone more secure by allowing security researchers to investigate vulnerabilities before they are exposed by others."

Apple is unlikely to agree. The project is the latest attempt to provide interested researchers with a platform that could be used by reverse engineers to look for vulnerabilities as well as those aiming to jailbreak their phones.

Yet, like most aspects of its iOS ecosystem, Apple keeps tight control of who can run its operating system and in what ways. Apple considers any non-approved use of its iOS operating system to be an infringement of its intellectual property. 

An Apple Lawsuit

In August, Apple sued mobile device virtualization company Corellium for offering a service based on a similar platform it had developed — albeit, one that is far more mature than Afek's open-source version.

"Although Corellium paints itself as providing a research tool for those trying to discover security vulnerabilities and other flaws in Apple's software, Corellium's true goal is profiting off its blatant infringement," Apple stated in its lawsuit. "Far from assisting in fixing vulnerabilities, Corellium encourages its users to sell any discovered information on the open market to the highest bidder."

Since January 2018, Corelliuim has offered the tool as a service to bug hunters an security researchers to emulate an iPhone running any version of the operating system. The company argues that allowing researchers to work on an emulated iOS is helpful for the entire community of users.

"We founded Corellium to equip the mobile community with the scalable, efficient, and innovative tools they need to push the mobile ecosystem forward," Amanda Gorton, CEO of Corellium, wrote in a statement regarding the lawsuit by Apple. "By combining the fidelity of native architecture with the advantages of a virtual resource, our pioneering platform empowers security experts, software developers, and mobile testers to do their work better than they could before — whether that's testing an app, conducting training, or working for our national defense."

Findig vulnerabilities in Apple devices can be lucrative. In January 2019, for example, exploit and surveillance software firm Zerodium doubled the bounty — to $2 million — that the company pays to researchers that privately offers a previously unknown exploit that can compromise an iPhone with no interaction. The company provides such exploits to its clients to test their own systems and attack targeted devices.

Increasing interest in the security of its devices prompted Apple to increase what it pays to researchers as part of its bug bounty program. Finding a vulnerability that allows a program to get around the secure boot firmware can earn a bounty of $200,000 as of May 2019, according to the company's iOS Security whitepaper. In the past, only vetted researchers could participate in the bounty program, but the company has reportedly since opened up the process to anyone.

Meanwhile, the iOS emulator that HCL AppScan's Afek developed is still very much a work in progress. The platform cannot run the latest version of iOS nor emulate the latest hardware, he says.

"It is in the very early stages — it only runs iOS 12.1 for iPhone 6," Afek says. "I'm currently working on additional features and support for newer iOS versions. It will be a challenge, but not a really big challenge — just a little bit of work to support the newer features."

Afek's Black Hat Europe presentation will be on Dec. 4. Apple did not return an e-mail request seeking comment on the new platform.

Related Content

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "Home Safe: 20 Cybersecurity Tips for Your Remote Workers."

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/14/2020
Omdia Research Launches Page on Dark Reading
Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading 7/9/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15572
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-15
Tor before 0.4.3.6 has an out-of-bounds memory access that allows a remote denial-of-service (crash) attack against Tor instances built to use Mozilla Network Security Services (NSS), aka TROVE-2020-001.
CVE-2020-8178
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-15
Insufficient input validation in npm package `jison` <= 0.4.18 may lead to OS command injection attacks.
CVE-2020-8203
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-15
Prototype pollution attack when using _.zipObjectDeep in lodash <= 4.17.15.
CVE-2020-13923
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-15
IDOR vulnerability in the order processing feature from ecommerce component of Apache OFBiz before 17.12.04
CVE-2020-15695
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-15
An issue was discovered in Joomla! through 3.9.19. A missing token check in the remove request section of com_privacy causes a CSRF vulnerability.