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Hacking Team hack reveals why you shouldn't jailbreak your iPhone

Glenn Fleishman | July 7, 2015
A massive breach in the private data of a firm that sells software to governments to spy on communications shows that jailbroken iPhones are vulnerable.

hacking team

An Italian firm with the appropriate name Hacking Team suffered a massive breach in its company data Sunday, and 400GB of internal documents so far have been released and are being analyzed by reporters and security researchers. Hacking Team's customers are government agencies, including both law enforcement and national security, and the ostensibly legal software it sells to help them intercept communications includes not-yet-exploited vulnerabilities, known as zero-days.

Much has been speculated before and after Edward Snowden's release of a trove of National Security Agency (NSA) documents in 2013 about the capabilities of the United States' agencies as well as those of allies and enemies. The Hacking Team dump reveals quite a bit more about the routine functions of third-party suppliers into that ecosystem, including specifically enumerated capabilities.

iOS users should therefore take note that the long-running concern that jailbroken iPhones and iPads were susceptible to vulnerabilities that could include access by so-called state actors appears to be confirmed by the data breach.

Two security outfits-the commercial Kaspersky Lab in Russia and academic Citizen Lab in Canada-first revealed in June 2014 that they had discovered and decoded Hacking Team's smartphone-cracking software. The reports at that time indicated that only jailbroken iOS devices could be hijacked, but that malware could be installed on an iOS device when connected to a computer that was confirmed as trusted, and which had been compromised.

That external analysis has now been complemented by the Hacking Team's internal documents. One pricelist shows a €50,000 ($56,000) price tag on an iOS snooping module with the note, "Prerequisite: the iOS device must be jailbroken."

The long-running concern that jailbroken iPhones and iPads were susceptible to vulnerabilities that could include access by so-called state actors appears to be confirmed.

While jailbreaking an iOS device to install software has been a continuously sought-after option, and one that's constantly revised by different parties as Apple fixes the exploits that allow it, there's always been a concomitant knowledge that jailbreaking renders an iPhone or iPad vulnerable. Apple is certainly protecting its ecosystem, but researchers agree it's also protecting system integrity.

Nick DePetrillo, a principal security researcher at Trail of Bits, says, "Jailbreaking your iPhone is running untrusted third-party exploit code on your phone that disables security features of your iPhone in order to give you the ability to customize your phone and add applications that Apple doesn't approve."

DePetrillo takes no position on Hacking Team or sideloading apps, but notes that from a security perspective, the latest jailbreaking software is designed to obfuscate how it works, comes from teams based outside the United States, and disables several security features.

 

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