May 30, 2016 By Douglas Bonderud 2 min read

Apple devices are gaining popularity with a dubious group: cybercriminals. As noted by ITProPortal, iOS threat XcodeGhost has now cracked the top three “most common” families of active malware.

According to SecurityWeek, meanwhile, a new threat is on the horizon for iOS. Called sandjacking, it’s a new way for malicious actors to crack Apple protections, install rogue apps and get access to sensitive user files. Here’s how attackers are breaking out of the box.

Digging Up Trouble

Discovered by security expert Chilik Tamir, sandjacking isn’t the easiest vulnerability to exploit. But if attackers are successful, it’s almost impossible for users to discover they’ve been hacked.

As noted by Security Affairs, it all starts with Xcode 7, a tool that lets developers quickly obtain Apple certificates needed to build iOS apps by providing just their name and email address. These apps are meant for testing and development purposes only, meaning they can’t be uploaded to the App Store, access Apple Pay or use in-app purchase features. They also don’t need to pass any official application review.

But Tamir discovered a way to move these apps onto active iOS devices. Called Su-A-Cyder, the method relies on physical access to the mobile device; actors must connect it to a computer, then replace a legitimate app with their rogue version by assigning it the same bundle ID as the original.

While there’s no chance of a remote exploit here, Tamir pointed out that users might hand over their device to repair shop workers, spouses or even IT department staffers. In this case, anyone with malicious intent could compromise an app and grant total access. It didn’t take long for Apple to recognize the problem, and iOS version 8.3 removed the ability to replace matching-ID apps.

Breaking the Box With Sandjacking

The fix didn’t stop Tamir, however, who took things a step further with the development of his sandjacking technique. It works like this: While Apple fixed the installation process, it didn’t account for device restore features.

At the recent Hack In The Box (HITB) conference, the security expert demonstrated that it was possible to create a device backup, delete the legitimate target app, install a malicious version and then run the restoration process. This doesn’t remove the rogue application, giving attackers access to the app’s sandbox and all associated user data.

More worrisome? It’s possible to automate the entire process, meaning with physical access cybercriminals could replace every app on the device with a malicious version.

So far Apple hasn’t rolled out a fix, despite being notified of the problem last December. There have already been a number of in-the-wild attempts to leverage this attack vector, and Tamir said he’ll wait until Apple patches the flaw before rolling out a sandjacker automation tool.

Apple remains committed to protecting the iOS environment by restricting device access and sandboxing app permissions. But this may be sinking ground as attackers find ways to dig up, push out and break through the box.

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