John

iPhone sdk restrictions bypassed – iPhone malware on the way?

In Geek Stuff on March 15, 2008 at 5:37 am
toxic-iphone.jpg
pic courtesy maccomplainer.com

Cnet reports that the iPhone software development kit (“SDK”) restrictions have been bypassed. The original intent for Apple was that all software develped by third parties for the iPhone had to be certified by Apple and made available only via the iTunes store. This crack bypasses the need to check if the app is certified before it is run.

The iPhone Dev Team said yesterday (thanks, Gizmodo) it has figured out a way to hack into the iPhone’s bootloader by taking advantage of the way the iPhone authorizes code that can be written to memory. After some modifications, this apparently allows any code to be written to the iPhone, such as applications that haven’t been authorized by Apple, and it should work with any new software version Apple releases, according to the team.

Unlike previous hacks, this one isn’t specific to the latest firmware version, it exploits the way that Apple designed the iPhone’s main bootloader. According to the iPhone Dev Team, the iPhone verifies whether or not firmware code has been signed with an RSA certificate before allowing it to be written to memory. The team has apparently figured out a way to disable that check and allow unsigned code to be written to memory. A detailed explanation of the exploit can be found here.

Apple’s desire to control the apps that run probably stems from the fact that a misbehaving app potentially ruins the overall user experience of the product – Apple’s chief differentiator. Imagine an app that doesn’t fade into the background obediently when an incoming call comes in – mighty frustrating for iPhone users. With a platform as powerful as the iPhone, this also opens the way for the malicious spammer types to now write code that could suck out contact and other personal data off the phone and send it back home for their own nefarious purposes.

The hacking community believes this jailbreaking method (which will also let you unlock your iPhone) can’t be fixed by Apple in a production version of the 2.0 software. Even though Apple has released the SDK, it seems pretty likely that hacking will continue as long as the company maintains its one-carrier, one-country policy and if Apple chooses to exclude lots of third-party applications that conflict with its goals.

Apple are used to having complete control over the entire user experience in their entire history. The fanboys don’t complain and since they’ve always had tiny market shares, it wasn’t deemed anti competitive. With the advent of the popularity of the iPod and arguably, the iPhone, this desire to maintain a homogeneous environment can’t realistically be expected without drawing some legal repercussions. Like Microsoft, though, at that point, the legal fines may just be a cost of doing business for Apple. Whatever the case, attempting to impose strict controls over any platform is next to impossible – as already demonstrated in so many tech examples. The hacks will always catch up. What this possibly means is that like any other user, the Apple-lites will now need to start thinking about security issues as well.

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  1. Let me see if I understand this correctly. If I download a software program that it not certified by Apple and that doesn’t come via the Apple store, I can have programs that have more flexibility than the officially sanctioned Apple applications – but I increase my chance of putting malicious software on my iPhone. I can also expect no support from Apple since I will, by definition, be violating the terms of my purchase agreement.

    However, as I understand it, there is no way for hacked software to be distributed via the App Store.

    So, those who wish to violate the terms of their licensing agreement with Apple take all the risks while those who stay within Apple’s guidelines have no risk from rogue developers.

    I that an accurate interpretation of the situation, or have I missed something?

  2. that would be correct

  3. So is the hacking really a danger to Apple’s reputation? People will undoubtably put malicious software onto their iPhones, but then an examination will easily reveal that it doesn’t have an Apple “certificate”. Exploits from free-lancing software applications might even help Apple because it will steer the majority of users to the “safe” Apple App Store (where Apple gets a cut of the proceeds) and away from unauthorized (“hacked”) software.

  4. to folks who understand the tech, no. to the general public, i’d say yes. its the same reason windows gets a bad rep. most of the time its a bad driver or malware that the user’s installed inadvertently which causes problems.

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