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Researchers create malicious charger for Apple devices

Researchers from Georgia Tech’s Information Security Center (GTISC) say they have managed to get a malware ridden application through Apple’s inspection procedure and have also discussed their concerns about ‘malicious chargers’ for the iPhone.

The team have documented their research online and say their application “rearranges its own code to create new functionality that is not exhibited during Apple’s approval process. This allows the malicious aspects of the app to remain undetected when reviewed and therefore obtain Apple’s approval.”

GTISC Associate Director Paul Royal says “Apple utilizes a mandatory app review process to ensure that only approved apps can run on iOS devices, which allows users to feel safe when using any iOS app. However, we have discovered two weaknesses that allow circumvention of Apple’s security measures.”

Two of the team Billy Lau and Tielei Wang said that the malware can be installed onto iOS devices via Trojan Horse style applications and peripherals. Wang’s approach ‘hides malicious code’ One the Malicious app gets past the review and is installed on a user device it can be instructed to carry out malicious tasks.
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Wang said “We were able to successfully publish a malicious app and use it to remotely launch attacks on a controlled group of devices. Our research shows that despite running inside the iOS sandbox, a Jekyll-based app can successfully perform many malicious tasks, such as posting tweets, taking photos, sending email and SMS, and even attacking other apps – all without the user’s knowledge.”

Lau took it a stage further deciding to look into security threats when even simply charging a device. His team created a malicious charger using a small, inexpensive single board computer. They called it ‘Mactans’ and it could be easily made to look like a standard device charger for the iPad or iPhone. Once it was plugged in however it installs malicious software.

Lau said “Despite the plethora of defense mechanisms in iOS, Mactans was able to install arbitrary apps within one minute of being plugged into current-generation Apple devices running the latest operating system software. All users are affected, as our approach requires neither a jailbroken device nor user interaction.”

Apple have been notified of the problems. After learning of Mactans, Apple have implemented a feature in iOS7 which notifies a user if the charger attempts to initiate a data connection.

You can read more on this, over here at Georgia Tech.

Kitguru says: iOS7 is already safer, but what about the millions of people using older versions of iOS?

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