Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Mobile

Researchers Finds Thousands of iOS Apps Ignoring Security

A critical data encryption tool, included by default in iOS, is being turned off in more than two-thirds of popular apps.

When a computing platform has a security feature built in, why would a developer decide not to use it? A better question might be, why would more than 20,000 iOS apps be published without an Apple encryption feature that's turned on by default?

Those are among the questions researchers at Wandera sought to answer when they analyzed more than 30,000 commonly used iOS apps found in the App Store. They found that App Transport Security (ATS), a set of rules and app extensions Apple provides as part of the Swift development platform, is turned off and not used by a majority of the app developers they saw.

Michael Covington, vice president at Wandera, says researchers began looking for answers when they saw critical information being passed in the clear. The company has traditionally looked for any personally identifiable information (PII) going across the network without encryption, he says.

"Apple has this framework in place that essentially should be forcing developers to encrypt anything that they sent out on the network, let alone user names, passwords, and credit card numbers," he says. So when Wandera researchers saw information flowing without encryption, they asked, "How were these things making it through?" Covington says. "And that's what led us to ATS."

Covington says he believes many developers disable ATS because they feel it will impact app performance. Those concerns, he says, come from legacy servers and mobile devices that had very limited CPUs, but today's systems can easily handle "HTTPS everywhere." 

Other developers disable ATS because they depend on ad networks for revenue from free apps. Many of those ad networks, including those from Facebook, rely on unencrypted connections.

In early versions of ATS, developers could only control the service by turning it on or off. Since iOS 10, though, developers have had the ability to turn it on and off for specific functions within the app. Still, as Wandera researchers point out in their report on the issue, many developers have never changed their practices to use the more granular control available for ATS.

While the original research focused on consumer apps, Covington says he's concerned about enterprise apps developed by — or for — large corporations. "One of our customers in pharmaceuticals has about 500 mobile apps that they build and maintain annually," he explains. "Those are the apps that are either being outsourced to third-party developers or are being built in-house where security is not the primary focus."

And yet those apps carry very sensitive data on a regular basis.

Covington says he expects to see more examples of security events that take advantage of these unencrypted apps. Until Apple or customers force developers to enable encryption for sensitive data transmission in all of their apps, it seems VPNs may be the only way corporations and consumers can be sure their PII remains private.

Related Content:

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
tonada1962
100%
0%
tonada1962,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/9/2019 | 6:38:18 PM
How to Tell if No ATS
So how does a person determine if they have an app that does not use ATS?
Where Businesses Waste Endpoint Security Budgets
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  7/15/2019
How Attackers Infiltrate the Supply Chain & What to Do About It
Shay Nahari, Head of Red-Team Services at CyberArk,  7/16/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-10101
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-18
OECMS v4.3.R60321 and v4.3 later is affected by: Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF). The impact is: The victim clicks on adding an administrator account. The component is: admincp.php. The attack vector is: network connectivity. The fixed version is: v4.3.
CVE-2019-10102
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-18
MailCleaner before c888fbb6aaa7c5f8400f637bcf1cbb844de46cd9 is affected by: Unauthenticated MySQL database password information disclosure. The impact is: MySQL database content disclosure (e.g. username, password). The component is: The API call in the function allowAction() in NewslettersControlle...
CVE-2019-10102
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-18
Open Information Security Foundation Suricata prior to version 4.1.3 is affected by: Denial of Service - TCP/HTTP detection bypass. The impact is: An attacker can evade a signature detection with a specialy formed sequence of network packets. The component is: detect.c (https://github.com/OISF/suric...
CVE-2019-13959
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-18
In Bento4 1.5.1-627, AP4_DataBuffer::SetDataSize does not handle reallocation failures, leading to a memory copy into a NULL pointer. This is different from CVE-2018-20186.
CVE-2019-13960
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-18
** DISPUTED ** In libjpeg-turbo 2.0.2, a large amount of memory can be used during processing of an invalid progressive JPEG image containing incorrect width and height values in the image header. NOTE: the vendor's expectation, for use cases in which this memory usage would be a denial of service, ...