Apple's iPhone: theoretical risks of unreleased handset

Symantec stokes Apple hype engine


Apple's iPhone is unlikely to become a gateway device for mobile malware, Symantec says. The handset will run an operating system based on Mac OS X, thus opening the possibility that the small number of viruse targeting the platform might be re-purposed to infect iPhone.

However, Concerns about possible mobile infestation of iPhones are "premature" at worst according to Eric Chien, an anti-virus researcher at Symantec.

For one thing the iPhone will be locked down so that consumers will be able to install only selected third party applications. While not dismissing the possibility that iPhone-specific malware could be created, Chien reckons it won't reach the levels currently seen with smart phones running Symbian OS. Nonetheless, vulnerabilities in Mac OS X could create future problems, he warns.

"The likely vectors of infection will be via any vulnerabilities on the device that allow code to execute. Unfortunately, just a single malware writer taking advantage of a single vulnerability could cause havoc, but for the most part such attacks will be limited," he writes.

"If the iPhone remains a closed device with not even Java applications or widgets let alone native code, the risk of infection becomes orders of magnitude lower."

Even though the iPhone is "locked down", interest in the technology is likely to spur the creation of home-brew hacks. The motives of these users is simply to run their own code on the phone, but the techniques pioneered by tech enthusiasts might be re-purposed for more malign purposes.

"Once they install and execute unknown code on their device, there is always a chance of executing malicious code. This scenario happened in the past with the Sony PSP and PSPBrick Trojan," Chien notes.

A mono-culture of devices running the same OS, knowledge among hackers about how software on the device works have been factors driving the creation of numerous items of malware on Windows PCs and the reason why mobile malware, despite considerable hype from some quarters, has been mercifully rare. Chien concludes that this is unlikely to change much with the arrival of iPhones later this year.

His analysis is published on Symantec's security blog here. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • UK Home Secretary delays Autonomy founder extradition decision to mid-December

    Could be a Christmas surprise in store from Priti Patel

    Autonomy Trial Autonomy founder Mike Lynch's pending extradition to the US has been kicked into the long grass again by the UK Home Office.

    Lynch is wanted in the US to stand trial on 17 charges of fraud and false accounting. He is alleged to have defrauded Hewlett Packard investors over the sale of British software firm Autonomy in 2011.

    Continue reading
  • Want to buy your own piece of the Pi? No 'urgency' says Upton of the listing rumours

    A British success story... what happens next?

    Industry talk is continuing to circulate regarding a possible public listing of the UK makers of the diminutive Raspberry Pi computer.

    Over the weekend, The Telegraph reported that a spring listing could be in the offing, with a valuation of more than £370m.

    Pi boss, Eben Upton, described the newspaper's article as "interesting" in an email to The Register today, before repeating that "we're always looking at ways to fund the future growth of the business, but the $45m we raised in September has taken some of the urgency out of that."

    Continue reading
  • All change at JetBrains: Remote development now, new IDE previewed

    Security, collaboration, flexible working: Fleet does it all apparently

    JetBrains has introduced remote development for its range of IDEs as well as previewing a new IDE called Fleet, which will form the basis for fresh tools covering all major programming languages.

    JetBrains has a core IDE used for the IntelliJ IDEA Java tool as well other IDEs such as Android Studio, the official programming environment for Google Android, PyCharm for Python, Rider for C#, and so on. The IDEs run on the Java virtual machine (JVM) and are coded using Java and Kotlin, the latter being primarily a JVM language but with options for compiling to JavaScript or native code.

    Fleet is "both an IDE and a lightweight code editor," said the company in its product announcement, suggesting perhaps that it is feeling some pressure from the success of Microsoft's Visual Studio Code, which is an extensible code editor. Initial language support is for Java, Kotlin, Go, Python, Rust, and JavaScript, though other languages such as C# will follow. Again like VS Code, Fleet can run on a local machine or on a remote server. The new IDE uses technology developed for IntelliJ such as its code-processing engine for features such as code completion and refactoring.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021