One more thing …

This is normally the phrase when every serious fanboy gets very excited at Apple’s Keynote. What Jonathan Zdziarski – a forensic scientist – recently summarised in his talk “Identifying Back Doors, Attack Points, and Surveillance Mechanisms in iOS Devices” at the Hope X conference is the other one more thing that any Apple addict should be (made) aware of and that probably might cause a quite different sense of excitement. In short his summary reads like this:

  • Apple is dishing out a lot of data behind our backs.
  • —It’s a violation of the customer’s trust and privacy to bypass backup encryption.
  • There is no valid excuse to leak personal data or allow packet sniffing without the user’s knowledge and permission.
  • Much of this data simply should never come off the phone, even during a backup.
  • Apple has added many conveniences for enterprises that make tasty attack points for .gov and criminals.
  • Overall, the otherwise great security of iOS has been compromised… by Apple… by design.

Beside a detailed analysis and various objective attempts to understand the intentions behind the non-advertised functionality that is available on any iOS device, he also has a proposal on what questions to bring to your next appointment at the Genius Bar:

  • Why is there a packet sniffer running on 600 million personal iOS devices instead of moved to the developer mount?
  • Why are there undocumented services that bypass user backup encryption that dump mass amounts of personal data from the phone?
  • Why is most of my user data still not encrypted with the PIN or passphrase, enabling the invasion of my personal privacy by YOU?
  • Why is there still no mechanism to review the devices my iPhone is paired with, so I can delete ones that don’t belong?

The slides of his talk are based on his journal paper in the International Journal of Digital Forensics and Incident Response.

Sharp tongues may now tend to imagine Apple representatives sitting together with government people. As soon as the negotiations about regulations relaxation, tax incentives, and grants get stuck, a fruitseller might raise her/his voice: “Actually … there is one more thing.” Probably this is just an insane, hysteric delusion within the context of some recent disclosures.

But what if these methods are exploited by criminals, especially those whose original mission never was to protect us?

Update (2014/07/31): Quite interesting to note that although Apple normally ignores any criticism consistently, they catched up quickly on this one via a knowledge base article: iOS: About diagnostic capabilities. Zdziarski published a detailed reply on his blog just some hours later: Apple Confirms “Backdoors”; Downplays Their Severity.