iPhone's biggest security threat could be USB connections

Tools

Apple's iPhone may be most vulnerable to malware when connected to a computer, according to IDG News Service, and is particularly susceptible when connected through USB or Wi-Fi.

The article cites a study conducted by researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology that proves "infecting a large number of iOS devices through botnets is feasible."

The vulnerability lives only in malware-infected computers which can then become active while syncing iPhones. According to the article, botnet herders make these attacks easier by selling "access to large networks of compromised computers" to hackers.

The trick can only be pulled off when a person has his or her Apple ID account active. The only way to download apps--in this case, malicious ones--is to sign in. However, the researchers, led by co-author Tielei Wang, found a way to use a "man-in-the-middle attack" that uses the USB or Wi-Fi connection to sign in with another user's Apple ID.

What's even scarier about this? The app doesn't have to come from the Apple App Store to make its way onto the iPhone.

"Apple issues developer certificates to those who want to do internal distributions of their own applications. Those certificates can be used to self-sign an application and provision it," the article says.

"Wang's team found they could sneak a developer provisioning file onto an iOS device when it was connected via USB to a computer. A victim doesn't see a warning. That would allow for a self-signed malicious application to be installed. Legitimate applications could also be removed and substituted for look-alike malicious ones," states the article.

That's not all. According to IDG News Service, cookies from Facebook or Gmail accounts can be stolen via a USB connection. For enterprises deploying iPhones to employees, or those who allow Apple products in their BYOD program, this may be worthy of note.

This report comes on the heels of this week's release of Good Technology's Q2 2014 Mobility Index Report (pdf) that shows Apple is losing enterprise app activations to Android. Apple is usually praised for its stalwart security, but with these findings, could Apple see more loss in the enterprise space?

For more:
- read the IDG News Service story (via InfoWorld)
- see the Georgia Institute of Technology paper

Related Articles:
Report highlights cyclical nature of enterprise phone activations
Mobile broadband modems are 'easy to attack,' says researcher
Jailbreaking iOS devices: Never say fixed

Filed Under