iTunes Backup Passwords 'Much Easier' to Crack in iOS 10, Apple Working on Fix

iOS 10 uses a new password verification mechanism for iTunes backups that makes them easier to crack, according to testing performed by Elcomsoft, a company that specializes in software designed to access iPhone data.

Encrypted iTunes backups created on a Mac or PC are protected by a password that can potentially be brute forced by password cracking software. The backup method in iOS 10 "skips certain security checks," allowing Elcomsoft to try backup passwords "approximately 2500 times faster" compared to iOS 9 and earlier operating systems.

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Obtaining the password for an iTunes backup provides access to all data on the phone, including that stored in Keychain, which holds all of a user's passwords and other sensitive information.

At this time, we have an early implementation featuring CPU-only recovery. The new security check is approximately 2,500 times weaker compared to the old one that was used in iOS 9 backups. At this time, we are getting these speeds:

iOS 9 (CPU): 2,400 passwords per second (Intel i5)
iOS 9 (GPU): 150,000 passwords per second (NVIDIA GTX 1080)
iOS 10 (CPU): 6,000,000 passwords per second (Intel i5)

In specific terms, security analyst Per Thorsheim of Peerlyst says Apple has switched from using a PBKDF2 hashing algorithm with 10,000 iterations to using a SHA256 algorithm with a single iteration, allowing for a significant speed increase when brute forcing a password.

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Image via Peerlyst

In a statement given to Forbes, Apple confirmed it is aware of the issue and is working on a fix.

"We're aware of an issue that affects the encryption strength for backups of devices on iOS 10 when backing up to iTunes on the Mac or PC. We are addressing this issue in an upcoming security update. This does not affect iCloud backups," a spokesperson said. "We recommend users ensure their Mac or PC are protected with strong passwords and can only be accessed by authorized users. Additional security is also available with FileVault whole disk encryption."

As Apple points out, this security oversight is limited to backups created on a Mac or PC and does not affect the security of iCloud backups. Most users likely do not need to worry about this issue as it requires access to the Mac or PC that was used to make the backup.

Apple has updates for iOS 10 and macOS Sierra in the works, and it's possible a fix will be included in the new versions of the software. iOS 10.1 and macOS Sierra 10.12.1 were seeded to developers and public beta testers earlier this week.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
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51 months ago
Physical access to ANY machine is a security risk, no matter how strong password encryption is.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago
They must hurry up. Yahoo was lucky enough their stocks were already worth nothing before the hacking.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago
I love Apple, but this sort of thing is so frustrating from a company that is trying to make privacy be such a huge part of its brand. Without security, privacy cannot exist. It doesn't have a huge effect on me, but it lowers my level of trust that Apple knows what it's doing.

As a developer, this is a pretty glaring flaw, so I can only assume (or hope, rather) it was a temporary implementation that accidentally got through to a release version. Whatever happened, it's bizarre.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago
Pretty lazy on their part.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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51 months ago
Lowered security threshold because hacking is becoming less of an issue in 2016...?
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago

But this is NOT physical access to the iPhone. They are talking about decrypting the BACKUP data. This data is typically on e hard drive on a PC or Mac or maybe in Apple's iCloud

This is iTunes backups. Most don't use iTunes backups these days, even fewer would have had time to make one for iOS 10. While this doesn't demand physical access to an iPhone, it seems to me like it would demand physical access to a PC or Mac (and only a PC or Mac, not an iPhone or iPad).
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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