Unpatched stealthy iOS MDM hack spells ruin for Apple tech enterprises

Clicking 'OK' to ordinary and expected phishing prompt enough for complete iPhone compromise

Black Hat Asia Enterprises the world over are at risk from a seamless new attack that allows the latest Apple devices to be quietly compromised in what researchers say requires a total overhaul of Cupertino's enterprise provisioning architecture for mobile device management.

The unpatched hack – dubbed SideStepper and crafted by Israel-based Check Point hackers Ohad Bobrov and Avi Bashan – begins with a near-perfect phishing attack targeted at staff, and ends with complete compromise of fully updated iOS devices running version 9.2.

It takes advantage of Apple's newly streamlined enterprise provisioning architecture, which allows tech shops to install non-App Store applications on staff handsets.

Mobile device management of Apple devices is a system used by almost all Fortune 100 companies and scores more enterprises. Almost all are at risk of the attack, the pair told The Register.

Apple's upgrade means attackers need only send an SMS – to trick staff into accepting a legitimate-looking request to install a configuration file – for attackers to have remote man-in-the-middle access. From there, attackers can install applications that will quietly eviscerate Apple devices.

The attack demonstrated to The Register by Bobrov and Bashan ahead of their presentation at BlackHat Asia today generates a pop-up on staff handsets that would appear typical of those requests generated by mobile device management platforms.

Apple has been contacted for comment. However, the pair say they informed the tech giant of their research, and Apple labeled it "a feature, not a bug."

The pair say the attack is cleaner and more deadly than any that have come before, and is explicitly thanks to Apple borking its enterprise provisioning service.

"We found a way to do a man-in-the-middle attack on an iOS mobile device and replace an original command such as 'query device' with one to install a malicious enterprise certificate application," Bobrov says.

"That pretty much seamlessly installs a malicious application on the device, and then game over."

Bashan says a configuration profile sent to devices and accepted by users will install routing commands and root certificates, which combined let attackers route and decrypt handset traffic to their servers.

"Once staff open the malicious app, sensitive data like contacts, emails, screenshots can be sent to a server so that personal and enterprise data is compromised," Bashan says.

"Apple tried to solve the problem but actually made it worse, because now it is even easier to infect a mobile device."

Cupertino indeed made it easier for enterprise provisioning, which has been a target of black and white hats since the FinFisher government mobile malware was identified in 2013. Following that revelation, jailbreakers Pangu and white hats behind the Masque attack have targeted the enterprise provisioning vector. Last year alone, Wire Lurker, Hacking Team, and YiSpecter surfaced to pwn the latest iOS devices using the channel.

The phishing configuration file bait resembles a legitimate prompt that is a common sight for staff using handsets controlled by mobile device management systems. Attackers can even mark the phishing installation prompt to continually pop up until users click accept.

Asked what Apple can do to remediate the problem, Bobrov and Bashan say little short of an architectural overhaul will fix the attack vector; patching will not help, they say. Moreover, any significant fix could disrupt businesses running existing mobile device management deployments for Apple devices.

There is also little a typical system administrator can do to detect a handset compromised by the attack. Eagle-eyed staff could report a newly-installed application to IT, foiling the hack, but further attack research makes this scenario even more unlikely.

Separate research by MetaIntell architect Chilik Tamir also showcased at the Singapore hacking conference demonstrates how attackers can install a malicious application that not only looks like a legitimate app, but when tapped, calls and launches the original expected app after it pwns the handsets.

Combined, the two tactics spell trouble for enterprises and opportunity for ambitious attackers.

Bobrov and Bashan are already working on further iOS vulnerability and exploitation research. They also have Android in their sights.

"We love mobile," Bobrov says. "Android as well." ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • It's 2022 and there are still malware-laden PDFs in emails exploiting bugs from 2017
    Crafty file names, encrypted malicious code, Office flaws – ah, it's like the Before Times

    HP's cybersecurity folks have uncovered an email campaign that ticks all the boxes: messages with a PDF attached that embeds a Word document that upon opening infects the victim's Windows PC with malware by exploiting a four-year-old code-execution vulnerability in Microsoft Office.

    Booby-trapping a PDF with a malicious Word document goes against the norm of the past 10 years, according to the HP Wolf Security researchers. For a decade, miscreants have preferred Office file formats, such as Word and Excel, to deliver malicious code rather than PDFs, as users are more used to getting and opening .docx and .xlsx files. About 45 percent of malware stopped by HP's threat intelligence team in the first quarter of the year leveraged Office formats.

    "The reasons are clear: users are familiar with these file types, the applications used to open them are ubiquitous, and they are suited to social engineering lures," Patrick Schläpfer, malware analyst at HP, explained in a write-up, adding that in this latest campaign, "the malware arrived in a PDF document – a format attackers less commonly use to infect PCs."

    Continue reading
  • New audio server Pipewire coming to next version of Ubuntu
    What does that mean? Better latency and a replacement for PulseAudio

    The next release of Ubuntu, version 22.10 and codenamed Kinetic Kudu, will switch audio servers to the relatively new PipeWire.

    Don't panic. As J M Barrie said: "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." Fedora switched to PipeWire in version 34, over a year ago now. Users who aren't pro-level creators or editors of sound and music on Ubuntu may not notice the planned change.

    Currently, most editions of Ubuntu use the PulseAudio server, which it adopted in version 8.04 Hardy Heron, the company's second LTS release. (The Ubuntu Studio edition uses JACK instead.) Fedora 8 also switched to PulseAudio. Before PulseAudio became the standard, many distros used ESD, the Enlightened Sound Daemon, which came out of the Enlightenment project, best known for its desktop.

    Continue reading
  • VMware claims 'bare-metal' performance on virtualized GPUs
    Is... is that why Broadcom wants to buy it?

    The future of high-performance computing will be virtualized, VMware's Uday Kurkure has told The Register.

    Kurkure, the lead engineer for VMware's performance engineering team, has spent the past five years working on ways to virtualize machine-learning workloads running on accelerators. Earlier this month his team reported "near or better than bare-metal performance" for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) and Mask R-CNN — two popular machine-learning workloads — running on virtualized GPUs (vGPU) connected using Nvidia's NVLink interconnect.

    NVLink enables compute and memory resources to be shared across up to four GPUs over a high-bandwidth mesh fabric operating at 6.25GB/s per lane compared to PCIe 4.0's 2.5GB/s. The interconnect enabled Kurkure's team to pool 160GB of GPU memory from the Dell PowerEdge system's four 40GB Nvidia A100 SXM GPUs.

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia promises annual updates across CPU, GPU, and DPU lines
    Arm one year, x86 the next, and always faster than a certain chip shop that still can't ship even one standalone GPU

    Computex Nvidia's push deeper into enterprise computing will see its practice of introducing a new GPU architecture every two years brought to its CPUs and data processing units (DPUs, aka SmartNICs).

    Speaking on the company's pre-recorded keynote released to coincide with the Computex exhibition in Taiwan this week, senior vice president for hardware engineering Brian Kelleher spoke of the company's "reputation for unmatched execution on silicon." That's language that needs to be considered in the context of Intel, an Nvidia rival, again delaying a planned entry to the discrete GPU market.

    "We will extend our execution excellence and give each of our chip architectures a two-year rhythm," Kelleher added.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon puts 'creepy' AI cameras in UK delivery vans
    Big Bezos is watching you

    Amazon is reportedly installing AI-powered cameras in delivery vans to keep tabs on its drivers in the UK.

    The technology was first deployed, with numerous errors that reportedly denied drivers' bonuses after malfunctions, in the US. Last year, the internet giant produced a corporate video detailing how the cameras monitor drivers' driving behavior for safety reasons. The same system is now apparently being rolled out to vehicles in the UK. 

    Multiple camera lenses are placed under the front mirror. One is directed at the person behind the wheel, one is facing the road, and two are located on either side to provide a wider view. The cameras are monitored by software built by Netradyne, a computer-vision startup focused on driver safety. This code uses machine-learning algorithms to figure out what's going on in and around the vehicle.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022