Forensic Expert Questions Covert 'Backdoor' Services Included in iOS by Apple

iOS7-smallAs part of a recent Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE/X) conference presentation, forensic scientist and iPhone jailbreak expert Jonathan Zdziarski detailed several backdoor security mechanisms that are secretly included in iOS by Apple. These mechanisms make covert data collection easier for Apple and governmental authorities, reports Zdziarski via ZDNet.

Zdziarski confirms that iOS is reasonably secure from attack by a malicious hacker, but notes that the mobile OS includes several forensic services and noticeable design omissions that make the OS vulnerable to snooping by forensic tools.

These services, such as "lockdownd," "pcapd" and "mobile.file_relay," can bypass encrypted backups to obtain data and can be utilized via USB, Wi-Fi and possibly cellular. They also are not documented by Apple and are not developer or carrier tools as they access personal data that would be not used for network testing or app debugging purposes.

While detailing these backdoors, Zdziarski makes it clear he is not a conspiracy theorist, but does want to know why Apple appears to be deliberately compromising the security of the iPhone and opening the door to professional, covert data access.

I am not suggesting some grand conspiracy; there are, however, some services running in iOS that shouldn’t be there, that were intentionally added by Apple as part of the firmware, and that bypass backup encryption while copying more of your personal data than ever should come off the phone for the average consumer. I think at the very least, this warrants an explanation and disclosure to the some 600 million customers out there running iOS devices. At the same time, this is NOT a zero day and NOT some widespread security emergency. My paranoia level is tweaked, but not going crazy. My hope is that Apple will correct the problem. Nothing less, nothing more. I want these services off my phone. They don’t belong there.

Zdziarski also notes that he isn't the only one aware of these backdoors. Several existing forensic software companies, such as Cellebrite and Elcomsoft, are already exploiting them as part of the forensic services they provide to law enforcement.

Consumers who want to limit access to these backdoor services are advised by Zdziarski to enable a complex passcode in iOS and use the enterprise Apple Configurator application to set Mobile Device Management (MDM) restrictions and enable Pair locking which will delete all pairing records. This solution will block third-party forensic software, but won't protect the device contents if it is sent to Apple for analysis.

Update 7:00 PM PT: Apple has released a statement to Tim Bradshaw of the Financial Times, denying Zdziarski's claims.

We have designed iOS so that its diagnostic functions do not compromise user privacy and security, but still provides needed information to enterprise IT departments, developers, and Apple for troubleshooting technical issues. A user must have unlocked their device and agreed to trust another computer before that computer is able to access this limited diagnostic data. The user must agree to share this information, and data is never transferred without their consent.

As we have said before, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Popular Stories

iPhone 16 Pro Max Generic Feature 2

5 Biggest Changes Rumored for iPhone 16 Pro Max

Tuesday May 21, 2024 7:29 am PDT by
Given Apple's rumored plan to add an all-new high-end tier to its iPhone 17 series in 2025, this could be the year for Apple to bring its boldest "Pro Max" model to the table — the kind of iPhone 16 upgrade that stands tall above its siblings, both figuratively and literally. If you have been holding out for the iPhone 16 Pro Max, here are five of the biggest changes rumored to be coming...
6chatgpt mac app

5 Reasons to Use OpenAI's ChatGPT App for Mac

Thursday May 23, 2024 6:07 am PDT by
On May 13, OpenAI during its Spring Update announced that it would be releasing a desktop ChatGPT app for the Mac in the "coming weeks," and said that ahead of a wider launch it had started rolling out the app to some ChatGPT Plus subscribers. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. After testing the app for a few days, we thought it was worth sharing some reasons why...
macOS 15 Feature

macOS 15 System Settings to Get Design Overhaul

Thursday May 23, 2024 12:51 pm PDT by
With the macOS 15 update that is set to debut at WWDC in June, Apple plans to rearrange "menus and app UIs," according to a report from AppleInsider. The System Settings app, which was last updated with macOS Ventura, will get one of the biggest updates. With macOS Ventura, Apple renamed the System Preferences app to System Settings, introducing a design similar to the Settings app on the...
new best buy blue

Best Buy's Memorial Day Sale Has Record Low Prices on iPads, MacBooks, and Much More

Friday May 24, 2024 7:12 am PDT by
Best Buy today kicked off its Memorial Day weekend sale, and it has some of the best prices we've tracked in weeks on iPads and MacBooks. Specifically, you'll find record low prices on the 5th generation iPad Air, iPad mini 6, M2 MacBook Air, and M3 MacBook Pro. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Best Buy. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment,...

Top Rated Comments

Hustler1337 Avatar
129 months ago
There is no reason to believe Apple would ever do anything to deliberately compromise the security of our data. Apple is the one company that strives to do everything to protect us and our privacy from prying eyes.

This article says otherwise.
Score: 79 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ArtOfWarfare Avatar
129 months ago
I don't understand why people get so worked up about this sort of thing.

Those backdoors are there for your protection. They are put there for the exclusive use of the governments who we democratically elected. i.e.: the good guys.

We should all stop being so suspicious, and learn to fully trust the NSA and GCHQ. These guys are serious, trained professionals - not spotty nerds who are out to steal credit card numbers or pictures of your girlfriend!

As long as these backdoors are secure (and surely they are!), then we have nothing to fear.
Yes, and we should all follow the state issued curfews and hand in our sharp kitchen utensils without resistance. It's for our own protection.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I have two things to say:
1 - If there's a backdoor for governments, there's a backdoor. It's not a matter of if but when the bad guys find out how to get in through it.
2 - What makes you think that the US election system produces good guys that care about you? We have two parties in control of the entire system. They decide who you can vote for. They make sure that if their person wins, the policies in the best interest of the party are implemented. The system doesn't produce the results that are best for the typical citizen - it produces the results that are best for the parties, and neither of them give a crap about your or me or any other typical citizen.
Score: 51 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheHateMachine Avatar
129 months ago
There is no reason to believe Apple would ever do anything to deliberately compromise the security of our data. Apple is the one company that strives to do everything to protect us and our privacy from prying eyes.

Ignorance is bliss!
Score: 46 Votes (Like | Disagree)
elev8d Avatar
129 months ago
Yeah. No thanks. Get this crap off my phone.
Score: 46 Votes (Like | Disagree)
the Helix Avatar
129 months ago
Data mining...

If the information from this article is true, it's actually quite scary.
It's like selling a TV with a built-in, hidden webcam that can peer into your private life without you knowing it.
Score: 40 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TWSS37 Avatar
129 months ago
blah blah blah blah it's Apple so it's harmless

<if article was about Google/Android> thread burns
Score: 36 Votes (Like | Disagree)