iPhone Turned into Pocket-Sized Hacking Platform

All iPhone applications run with full root privileges and any application vulnerability means winner takes all.

The iPhone has been turned into a "pocket-sized … network-enabled root shell," said H.D. Moore, thanks to the well-known security researcher having published shell code for the smart phone and instructions on how to use it as a portable hacking platform.

Because of his work, Moores highly popular Metasploit Framework penetration-testing tool can now be used to easily write point-and-click exploits targeting iPhone application vulnerabilities—exploits that will give an attacker complete control of the device, given that all of the phones applications run with root access.

Moore on Sept. 25 published details of his recent work on the iPhone.

Besides publishing shell code, Moore revealed multiple security chasms on Apples device: The first and most shocking is that each and every process running on the iPhone—from the mobile version of Apples Safari browser to its mail client and even the phones calculator—all run with full root privileges. What that means: A security vulnerability in any iPhone application can lead to complete system takeover.

"A rootkit takes on a whole new meaning when the attacker has access to the camera, microphone, contact list and phone hardware. Couple this with always-on Internet access over EDGE and you have a perfect spying device," Moore said.

Others agree. "The shellcode combined with the number of bugs present in the iPhone finally make mobile attacks a real threat," wrote Errata Chief Technology Officer David Maynor in a blog posting.

Charlie Miller—a researcher with Baltimore-based Independent Security Evaluators, and one of a trio who were first to unveil security issues with the iPhone and release iPhone "vibrate" shellcode at Black Hat 2007—told eWEEK in an interview that he wishes hed been able to use Metasploit when he was writing exploits for the gadget back in July.

"It will certainly make life easier" for others who write exploit code for the iPhone, he said. "Metasploit is the go-to point-and-click [pen-testing] interface. Its really designed to help you write exploits and deploy [them] in ways anyone can use. Jailbreak [another development tool] was available [at the time Miller was writing exploits]. But now [Moore] has Metasploit where you can right away build payloads that run as executables on the iPhone."

As it is, within three days of the smartphones July launch hackers cracked the iPhones firmware, finding not only that the phone runs on a Unix-like operating system but going so far as to extract the master root and other system passwords.


Click here to read more about security issues with the iPhone.

Moore waited until the iPhone price dropped and until the toolchain tool for iPhone application development was released before he bought an iPhone to pick apart.

He first installed AppTapp, an iPhone package manager that downloads applications over Wi-Fi or EDGE. With the installer, he added OpenSSH—an open-source shell program that provides encrypted communication using the SSH protocol—and a VT-100 Terminal to the phone, and voila (after a "few headaches," he said), he had shell access.

Moore says he can now generate working iPhone shellcode with a version of Metasploit 3.

Once he had shell access, he found not only that all applications run with root access, but an assortment of other things potentially interesting to malware writers or to any of the many people who love to hack iPhones.

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