Apple's iOS and OS X contain deep security flaws, say researchers

A team of six university researchers have exposed several weaknesses in Apple's cross-app resource sharing design and communication mechanisms in both iOS and OS X platforms, which any hacker can take advantage of and bypass security checks in the App Store to steal passwords from installed apps.

The security flaw could expose sensitive information present inside the iOS and OS X ecosystems like iCloud tokens and passwords, mail app passwords and passwords stored by Google Chrome.

The team constructed malicious apps which were then fed to Apple's App Store and subsequently cleared the automated verification process to get published in App stores of iOS and Mac. These apps were weaponised enough to break through the keychain service that stored various credentials of Apple's in-house apps. Additional design flaws in Apple's cross-app resource sharing allowed these apps to even steal critical data from third party apps like Facebook, WeChat and EVernote.

Through a demonstration, the team showed how these apps could steal confidential banking information stored within the Google Chrome app.

The issue was first made known to Apple in October last year which then requested for a six month extension before the report could be published. However, little has been heard from Apple ever since, leaving the question unanswered on whether Apple could plug the flaws mentioned in the report which was finally published today.

However, users who have stored vital information within the Google Chrome app in iOS and Mac platforms need not worry as Google has removed the keychain integration of the app, insulating it from any malicious attacks in the future.  

Apple's iOS and OS X ecosystems have been considered impenetrable so far, with hardly any hackers gaining much success in infiltrating the operating systems over the years. In light of such an enviable history, the new revelations have been a killer blow to Apple's software security apparatus.

"Note that not only does our attack code circumvent the OS-level protection but it can also get through the restrictive app vetting process of the Apple Stores, completely defeating its multi-layer defense," the researchers said.

While stating that their research is a forewarning to Apple against much more powerful attacks in the future, the researchers expressed hope that the revelations will ensure that OS makers will get to understand the fundamental causes of such flaws to develop better app protection in future operating systems.

You can read the detailed research report here.

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