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.

Perimeter

7/31/2009
09:00 AM
David Maynor
David Maynor
Commentary
50%
50%

New iPhone SMS Threat No Reason To Panic

You may have heard that researcher Charlie Miller has released details about a vulnerability that allows an attacker to take over an iPhone remotely with a SMS message. Now everyone is rushing to offer homegrown advice on how to fix the problem. But I'm going to offer a different point of view.

You may have heard that researcher Charlie Miller has released details about a vulnerability that allows an attacker to take over an iPhone remotely with a SMS message. Now everyone is rushing to offer homegrown advice on how to fix the problem. But I'm going to offer a different point of view.Don't panic.

If you keep sensitive information on your iPhone, then take heart in knowing that it will be at least a few weeks until this attack is weaponized. If you don't keep sensitive data on your iPhone, then you are not likely to be the target of anyone's attack.

To understand why you shouldn't panic, let's look at the attack. A flaw in the iPhone software allows someone to remotely send SMS messages to your device that will trigger a buffer overflow, which will, in theory, give them access to your phone. To make this attack effective, much more research must be done, and several barriers must be overcome. But these barriers aren't going to be broken today or tomorrow. And an additional layer of security comes into play with wireless carriers being able to identify abuse on their networks and then blocking it.

A lot of the homegrown information about protection seems to revolve around two schools of thought: cancel your SMS plan or jailbreak your iPhone to stop certain software from running. Neither plan will provide any protection and will just inconvenience you more in the long run.

Canceling your SMS plan does no good because, unbeknown to you, your phone is constantly receiving SMS messages. These messages carry all kinds of information about the network and your phone's operating state, and they even alert you when you have received a voicemail. Disabling your SMS service just means you can't get messages from other people, but you will still get them from the system. Since this attack could allow someone to spoof a system message, you are still at risk.

Jailbreaking your iPhone is another theory. The thought behind this is that if you can stop MobileSMS from running, you are safe. But MobileSMS doesn't really do much besides read the messages from a database and display them. The CommCenter process is what reads the SMS messages from the network, parses them, and puts them in the database -- and this is where the major vulnerabilities are. If you stop this process from running on the phone, then the data portion of your iPhone will no longer work, basically turning your iPhone into a more expensive iPod Touch.

The only way to really be safe is to get the update from Apple when it becomes available.

Miller's Black Hat talk was about more than just a single vulnerability, though. It was a description of how to audit code previously thought to be safe from prying eyes. So although Apple may patch this one bug, you can be sure that more bugs are on the way and in more manufacturers' devices.

David Maynor is CTO of Errata Security. Special to Dark Reading

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Why Cyber-Risk Is a C-Suite Issue
Marc Wilczek, Digital Strategist & CIO Advisor,  11/12/2019
The Cold Truth about Cyber Insurance
Chris Kennedy, CISO & VP Customer Success, AttackIQ,  11/7/2019
Black Hat Q&A: Hacking a '90s Sports Car
Black Hat Staff, ,  11/7/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-5230
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-13
P20 Pro, P20, Mate RS smartphones with versions earlier than Charlotte-AL00A 9.1.0.321(C00E320R1P1T8), versions earlier than Emily-AL00A 9.1.0.321(C00E320R1P1T8), versions earlier than NEO-AL00D NEO-AL00 9.1.0.321(C786E320R1P1T8) have an improper validation vulnerability. The system does not perform...
CVE-2019-5231
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-13
P30 smartphones with versions earlier than ELLE-AL00B 9.1.0.186(C00E180R2P1) have an improper authorization vulnerability. The software incorrectly performs an authorization check when a user attempts to perform certain action. Successful exploit could allow the attacker to update a crafted package.
CVE-2019-5233
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-13
Huawei smartphones with versions earlier than Taurus-AL00B 10.0.0.41(SP2C00E41R3P2) have an improper authentication vulnerability. Successful exploitation may cause the attacker to access specific components.
CVE-2019-5246
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-13
Smartphones with software of ELLE-AL00B 9.1.0.109(C00E106R1P21), 9.1.0.113(C00E110R1P21), 9.1.0.125(C00E120R1P21), 9.1.0.135(C00E130R1P21), 9.1.0.153(C00E150R1P21), 9.1.0.155(C00E150R1P21), 9.1.0.162(C00E160R2P1) have an insufficient verification vulnerability. The system does not verify certain par...
CVE-2010-4177
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-12
mysql-gui-tools (mysql-query-browser and mysql-admin) before 5.0r14+openSUSE-2.3 exposes the password of a user connected to the MySQL server in clear text form via the list of running processes.