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.

Perimeter

7/31/2009
09:00 AM
David Maynor
David Maynor
Commentary
50%
50%

New iPhone SMS Threat No Reason To Panic

You may have heard that researcher Charlie Miller has released details about a vulnerability that allows an attacker to take over an iPhone remotely with a SMS message. Now everyone is rushing to offer homegrown advice on how to fix the problem. But I'm going to offer a different point of view.

You may have heard that researcher Charlie Miller has released details about a vulnerability that allows an attacker to take over an iPhone remotely with a SMS message. Now everyone is rushing to offer homegrown advice on how to fix the problem. But I'm going to offer a different point of view.Don't panic.

If you keep sensitive information on your iPhone, then take heart in knowing that it will be at least a few weeks until this attack is weaponized. If you don't keep sensitive data on your iPhone, then you are not likely to be the target of anyone's attack.

To understand why you shouldn't panic, let's look at the attack. A flaw in the iPhone software allows someone to remotely send SMS messages to your device that will trigger a buffer overflow, which will, in theory, give them access to your phone. To make this attack effective, much more research must be done, and several barriers must be overcome. But these barriers aren't going to be broken today or tomorrow. And an additional layer of security comes into play with wireless carriers being able to identify abuse on their networks and then blocking it.

A lot of the homegrown information about protection seems to revolve around two schools of thought: cancel your SMS plan or jailbreak your iPhone to stop certain software from running. Neither plan will provide any protection and will just inconvenience you more in the long run.

Canceling your SMS plan does no good because, unbeknown to you, your phone is constantly receiving SMS messages. These messages carry all kinds of information about the network and your phone's operating state, and they even alert you when you have received a voicemail. Disabling your SMS service just means you can't get messages from other people, but you will still get them from the system. Since this attack could allow someone to spoof a system message, you are still at risk.

Jailbreaking your iPhone is another theory. The thought behind this is that if you can stop MobileSMS from running, you are safe. But MobileSMS doesn't really do much besides read the messages from a database and display them. The CommCenter process is what reads the SMS messages from the network, parses them, and puts them in the database -- and this is where the major vulnerabilities are. If you stop this process from running on the phone, then the data portion of your iPhone will no longer work, basically turning your iPhone into a more expensive iPod Touch.

The only way to really be safe is to get the update from Apple when it becomes available.

Miller's Black Hat talk was about more than just a single vulnerability, though. It was a description of how to audit code previously thought to be safe from prying eyes. So although Apple may patch this one bug, you can be sure that more bugs are on the way and in more manufacturers' devices.

David Maynor is CTO of Errata Security. Special to Dark Reading

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Cybersecurity Industry: It's Time to Stop the Victim Blame Game
Jessica Smith, Senior Vice President, The Crypsis Group,  2/25/2020
5 Ways to Up Your Threat Management Game
Wayne Reynolds, Advisory CISO, Kudelski Security,  2/26/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
Data breaches and regulations have forced organizations to pay closer attention to the security incident response function. However, security leaders may be overestimating their ability to detect and respond to security incidents. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-9447
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-28
The file-upload feature in GwtUpload 1.0.3 allows XSS via a crafted filename.
CVE-2019-10064
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-28
hostapd before 2.6, in EAP mode, makes calls to the rand() and random() standard library functions without any preceding srand() or srandom() call, which results in inappropriate use of deterministic values. This was fixed in conjunction with CVE-2016-10743.
CVE-2019-8741
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-28
A denial of service issue was addressed with improved input validation.
CVE-2020-9399
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-28
The Avast AV parsing engine allows virus-detection bypass via a crafted ZIP archive. This affects versions before 12 definitions 200114-0 of Antivirus Pro, Antivirus Pro Plus, and Antivirus for Linux.
CVE-2020-9442
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-28
OpenVPN Connect 3.1.0.361 on Windows has Insecure Permissions for %PROGRAMDATA%\OpenVPN Connect\drivers\tap\amd64\win10, which allows local users to gain privileges by copying a malicious drvstore.dll there.