Apple Documents Undisclosed iOS Services - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Mobile // Mobile Applications
News
7/23/2014
03:30 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Apple Documents Undisclosed iOS Services

Apple describes services as "diagnostic," but does not address criticism that backdoors undermine security and privacy.

Apple-IBM Deal: 9 Moves Rivals Should Make
Apple-IBM Deal: 9 Moves Rivals Should Make
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Following questions about undocumented iOS services that bypass security features, Apple has posted a support article on its website that characterizes the services as tools for troubleshooting by enterprise IT departments, developers, and AppleCare representatives.

"Each of these diagnostic capabilities requires the user to have unlocked their device and agreed to trust another computer," Apple's documentation states. "Any data transmitted between the iOS device and trusted computer is encrypted with keys not shared with Apple."

Apple also notes that the services can be accessed wirelessly by users who have enabled iTunes Wi-Fi Sync on a trusted computer.

Trust of course is the issue here. If everyone could be trusted, encryption would not be necessary. Apple appears to be unwilling to acknowledge potential gaps in its trust model or the possibility that authorities may seek to use these services as shortcuts around the burden of judicial process.

[Apple posts strong Q3 earnings, but the big test comes next quarter. Read Apple Profit Healthy: All Eyes On Fall.]

Forensic researcher Jonathan Zdziarski, who raised questions about these previously undocumented services in a hacking conference presentation last week, responded to Apple's attempt to allay concerns by stressing that he is not concerned about Apple's intent. Rather, he worries that the backdoors Apple has left in iOS could be abused by others.

"What does concern me is that Apple appears to be completely misleading about some of these (especially file relay), and not addressing the issues I raised on others," Zdziarski wrote in a blog post.

Apple describes three previously undocumented services in its help document: com.apple.mobile.pcapd, which "supports diagnostic packet capture from an iOS device to a trusted computer"; com.apple.mobile.file_relay, which "supports limited copying of diagnostic data from a device"; and com.apple.mobile.house_arrest, used for transferring documents via iTunes and Xcode.

These services do have legitimate uses. But they also present a security and privacy risk because of the way they've been implemented.

Zdziarski explains that com.apple.mobile.pcapd is available on every iOS device and can be activated without the user's knowledge. The service is not restricted to devices enrolled in an enterprise policy or a device configured for development.

"What makes this service dangerous is that it can be activated wirelessly, and does not ask the user for permission to activate it … so it can be employed for snooping by third parties in a privileged position," said Zdziarski.

With regard to com.apple.mobile.file_relay, Zdziarski calls Apple's characterization that the service provides diagnostic data "misleading." Diagnostic data, he insists, should not include "SMS, Notes, Address Book, GeoLocation data, screenshots of the last thing they were looking at, and a ton of other personal data."

Apple asserts com.apple.mobile.file_relay "respects iOS Data Protection." But Zdziarski contends that the service bypasses backup encryption, that the information can be dumped wirelessly, and that Apple's pairing record implementation -- used to establish that a device is trusted -- extends trust to many devices rather than one and unlocks data protection in a way that's too broad.

Finally, Zdziarski observes that while com.apple.mobile.house_arrest is not a backdoor, it provides access to information that is privileged and should never come off a phone. He also gives Apple credit for finally acknowledging these services and expects that Apple will quietly address some of the issues raised in upcoming releases.

Managing the interdependency between software and infrastructure is a thorny challenge. Enter DevOps, a methodology aimed at increasing collaboration and communication between these groups while minimizing code flaws. Should security teams worry -- or rejoice? Get the DevOps' Impact On Application Security report today (registration required).

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Commentary
Get Your Enterprise Ready for 5G
Mary E. Shacklett, Mary E. Shacklett,  1/14/2020
Commentary
Modern App Dev: An Enterprise Guide
Cathleen Gagne, Managing Editor, InformationWeek,  1/5/2020
Slideshows
9 Ways to Improve IT and Operational Efficiencies in 2020
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  1/2/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
The Cloud Gets Ready for the 20's
This IT Trend Report explores how cloud computing is being shaped for the next phase in its maturation. It will help enterprise IT decision makers and business leaders understand some of the key trends reflected emerging cloud concepts and technologies, and in enterprise cloud usage patterns. Get it today!
Slideshows
Flash Poll