New iOS 8 Vulnerability Taps Worrisome Wi-Fi Exploit

Despite stiff competition from other mobile manufacturers, Apple still rules the roost. According to CNN, the company posted its best-ever quarter in the latter part of 2014, selling almost 75 million iPhones in just three months. However, all these devices make for tempting targets. Mobile security firm Skycure has uncovered an iOS 8 vulnerability that leverages fake wireless hot spots and compromised Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates to create a “no iOS zone.”

Stung by SSL?

Using SSL certificates is an industry-standard best practice; almost every app for sale on iTunes uses SSL as a matter of course. According to a recent Skycure blog post, however, Chief Technology Officer Yair Amit and his team uncovered a bug in the certificates being pushed to their Apple devices.

It started when they bought and configured a new wireless router and then noticed apps on iPhones in the room began to crash. After some digging, the security firm found that by using specially crafted SSL certificates, it was possible to create a bug that let attackers crash any SSL-dependent app on command.

What’s more, prolonged use of the device caused iOS to crash, as well. Under certain circumstances, the Skycure team found they could also put the phone into a constant reboot cycle, preventing users from fixing the problem. Of course, this iOS 8 vulnerability depends on a Wi-Fi connection; it’s not possible to manipulate SSL certificates in this way over cellular networks.

Who Watches the Wi-Fi?

Of course, users that rely on cellular connections were unaffected since this SSL-based iOS 8 vulnerability is only exploitable across Wi-Fi connections. However, as noted by CSO Online, that’s no guarantee of safety since many mobile carriers preconfigure smartphones to automatically connect if they’re in range of subscriber networks. To simplify this process, networks have a very limited name set. For instance, in the United Kingdom, devices using Vodafone’s infrastructure will automatically connect to networks named “1WifiVodafone1x” or “Auto-BTWifi.” What’s more, users can’t turn off this feature without completely disabling their Wi-Fi.

This naming scheme makes it easy for cybercriminals to uncover the most common network handles. Using the WiFiGate technique, also discovered by Skycure, attackers could set up a fake network that devices would automatically detect and access. Then, modified SSL certificates could knock out iOS devices and make them unusable. At the coffee shop or restaurant level, this threat amounts to little more than a minor inconvenience, but if deployed in an area that sees heavy mobile use for business — such as Wall Street or Silicon Valley — this iOS 8 vulnerability could become a large-scale distributed denial-of-service attack.

So far, there is no fix for the SSL/WiFiGate flaw, but Skycure is working with Apple to resolve the problem and is keeping mum about some of the more pertinent technical details. No attacks have been reported, but it’s a sobering reminder that secure and familiar doesn’t always mean safe and sound.

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Douglas Bonderud

Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and...