Massive vulnerability in the Apple iOS

Simple hacker attack can cause the devices to crash, update strongly recommended

A vulnerability allows hackers to hack iOS devices and cause them to crash. © Secure Mobile Networking Lab / TU Darmstadt
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Crash on Commando: Researchers have discovered a significant vulnerability in the Apple iOS 12 operating system - potentially affecting more than half a billion smartphones and iPads. This vulnerability allows attackers to crash the devices wirelessly and with simple hardware. The experts therefore strongly recommend that all users of mobile Apple devices install the newly released update 12.1 - the gap is closed in it.

Thanks to smartphones and tablets, we can be reached almost everywhere today. Whether Internet, e-mails, videos or other data - the devices are linked to the network and each other via WLAN and mobile radio. But exactly this opens up a variety of attack options - whether in the mobile standard, in apps or in the data flow of fitness bracelets and smartwatches.

Access via wireless function

The now discovered by researchers at the TU Darmstadt vulnerability affects the Apple operating system iOS 12. This uses protocols such as the Apple Wireless Direct Link (AWDL) to facilitate the direct data exchange and communication between different Apple devices via WLAN. However, this system seems to be outsmarted by hackers, as Matthias Hollick and his team found out from the Secure Mobile Networking Lab.

"To put it simply, we use Bluetooth LE to ring the bell and the target device activates AWDL, " explains Hollick. "In a second step, we're taking advantage of Apple's failure to fully verify the input we send to the target device." This allows a hacker to flood the device with nonsensical input. This can cause the target device or even all nearby devices to crash at the same time. "We do not need any user interaction, " says Hollick.

How the attack on an iOS device works © Secure Mobile Networking Lab / TU Darmstadt

WLAN and programmable board are enough

Such an attack is possible even with simple and widely available equipment: "In order to carry out the Bluetooth brute force attack and the subsequent steps in practice, it does not even require special hardware, " says Hollick's colleague Milan Mare. A standard WLAN card and a programmable board available for less than 20 euros are sufficient: Display

"The attack works with a WLAN card from a commercial laptop and a BBC micro: bit - a cheap Bluetooth-enabled single-board computer similar to a Raspberry Pi or Arduino, originally a programming learning platform Schulr school children was developed, "says mare. Potential attackers have an easy game with it, as the researchers demonstrated in tests. In a row, the devices thus break down, without the scientists having to touch them once.

iOS update 12.1 closes the vulnerability

Researchers reported these vulnerabilities to Apple some time ago to give the company time to fix the vulnerability before releasing the holes. There is already an update for iPhones and iPads. The scientists therefore strongly recommend that users of mobile devices from Apple install the latest iOS update 12.1 in order to protect the devices.

Even if the vulnerability concerns only Apple devices, users should not be safe with an Android phone, the researchers emphasize. Because the vulnerability found also has implications for the "non-Apple world". For the Android operating system uses a standard, the so-called Neighbor Awareness Networking (NAN), which builds on the AWDL Apple. The researchers therefore expect similar vulnerabilities to be found in NAN implementations. (24th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, 2018; Crashing iOS 12 Devices Remotely)

(Technical University Darmstadt, 31.10.2018 - NPO)