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Risk

12/6/2009
01:50 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Researcher: iPhone Data Easy To Cultivate

While there hasn't been any attacks on iPhones that haven't been jailbroken, one researcher has shown that once a rogue application makes its way onto the device - there's not much it can't do with your data.

While there hasn't been any attacks on iPhones that haven't been jailbroken, one researcher has shown that once a rogue application makes its way onto the device - there's not much it can't do with your data.iPhone developer Nicolas Seriot recently released a proof-of-concept application, SpyPhone, that demonstrates how the public iPhone API can be used to grab data from other applications, such as the keyboard cache or address book. All of SpyPhone's snooping is done in the background, so a user would have no way to know. Email sends the snatched data back to the snooper.

Of course, an attacker wouldn't call their application "Spyphone." Rather, they'd integrate such capabilities into an application that purports to be useful, or fun, such as a game - and Trojan horse designed for the smartphone is born.

The trick would be getting such a Trojan past the AppStore application gatekeepers.

That, says Seriot in this presentation [.pdf], isn't as difficult as one might expect. Unlike known viruses, which could be found through signatures, Trojans are more difficult to identify. The spyware or keystroke logging capabilities could be left latent for weeks, or months, until many have downloaded the application. And the data sent back to the attacker could be encrypted. Perhaps the spyware capabilities could be added at a later date, through what appears to be a standard update. How long would it take such a nefarious application to be spotted?

Who knows for sure, but probably long enough to do considerable damage.

I do agree with Seriot that, because AppStore reviewers have to examine so many applications, and it's easy enough to obfuscate spyware capabilities, that something bad is bound to get through one day.

Some may argue that the threat of a Trojan application getting into the AppStore and into user devices is paranoid thinking - I say it's just a matter of time. But this threat is no different than the Trojan threat that has always existed on PCs and smartphones.

Seriot recommends Apple make it so that the end user would be prompted to authorize applications to read or write to the AddressBook and that the keyboard cache be made a service of the operating system. He also suggests a firewall be placed on the iPhone that can vet outgoing traffic. Sounds reasonable to me.

He also contends, until then, that users keep the iPhone on Airplane Mode. I wouldn't go so far as to keep Airplane Mode on, but it's certainly a good idea to be careful what games and applications are downloaded from the AppStore.

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