Researchers and Hackers Use Rare Dev-Fused Prototype iPhones to Unlock Security Secrets

If you've ever wondered how security researchers and hackers manage to bypass Apple's protections and security features to uncover iPhone vulnerabilities and other sensitive info, Motherboard is out today with a new report that has an answer.

Hackers and security researchers use rare "dev-fused" iPhones created for internal use at Apple. These dev-fused iPhones have not finished the production process and have many security features disabled. Motherboard describes them as "pre-jailbroken devices."

devfusediphone

A dev-fused ‌iPhone‌ image shared with Motherboard by collector Giulio Zompetti

Dev-fused iPhones are smuggled out of Apple where they can sell for thousands of dollars on the gray market. These iPhones are incredibly valuable due to the fact that they can be used to locate vulnerabilities able to impact release versions of the ‌iPhone‌.

On the back of dev-fused iPhones seen by Motherboard, there's a QR-code sticker, a separate barcode, and a decal that says "FOXCONN," referring to the factory that makes iPhones and other Apple products. Otherwise, the phones look like normal iPhones. That standard ‌iPhone‌ experience ends when the phone is turned on. When booted up, you briefly see a command line terminal. And then when it loads, gone are the sleek icons and colorful backgrounds of iOS.

Motherboard spent months researching dev-fused iPhones, talking to more than two dozen sources ranging from security researchers and Apple employees to rare phone collectors and jailbreakers, and found that researchers, hackers, and high-profile companies like Cellebrite or GrayKey use these dev-fused iPhones to uncover bugs that can later be exploited by law enforcement agencies.

A dev-fused ‌iPhone‌ was, for example, used in 2016 to study the Secure Enclave Processor, and security researchers were able to uncover valuable details on how it works. These dev-fused iPhones are stolen property and illegal to possess, but are apparently "widely used" in the ‌iPhone‌ hacking scene.

"If you are an attacker, either you go blind or with a few thousand dollars you have all you need," Luca Todesco, one of the most well-known iOS security researchers in the world, told Motherboard, referring to people who buy dev-fused iPhones. "Some people made the second choice."

Motherboard was able to find someone on Twitter who sells dev-fused iPhones, with a dev-fused ‌iPhone‌ X priced at around $1,800. The seller said that he's provided dev-fused iPhones to several security researchers and that he believes major security firms that hack iPhones also use them. Other sellers offer dev-fused iPhones at higher prices, and Motherboard found an iPhone XR priced at $20,000.

Dev-fused iPhones are paired with a proprietary Apple cable called Kanzi that can cost upwards of $2,000, that, when plugged into a Mac, provides access to internal Apple software that offers root access to the phone.

Most of these devices seem to be stolen from and smuggled out of factories like Foxconn in China. Apple is apparently "well aware" of the fact that dev-fused devices are available. Apple has "ramped up efforts" to keep these devices from leaving Foxconn and does go after dev-fused ‌iPhone‌ sellers.

Motherboard's full report can be read over on the Motherboard website, and it is a fascinating look at the world of ‌iPhone‌ hacking for anyone who is interested in how ‌iPhone‌ vulnerabilities are uncovered.

Top Rated Comments

AngerDanger Avatar
30 months ago


Oh, I've been there, man! Long nights spent hacking away at devices on top of my… alligator leather covered table.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
7thson Avatar
30 months ago
What's gray about selling stolen property?
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
m4mario Avatar
30 months ago
Sometimes I forget how big Apple really has become. The kind of problems Apple faces, few companies need to face.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tzm41 Avatar
30 months ago
So there are backdoors. I am guessing that because it's called "Dev-fused" that there is a hardware fuse that when blown during provisioning removes the ability of the phone to be used this way. That means that the restriction is by-passable.

The $2000 cable just means that encrypted communications is also required and the cable contains the encryption hardware and/or keys. So much for Apple's pie the eye security. Still better than the competitors, but not much challenge for the NSA.
I don't think "development units without security measures installed" are equal to "retail devices with backdoors installed".
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Aston441 Avatar
30 months ago
Hopefully someday a good completely open source (software and hardware) phone will come to market and we can leave all the proprietary bullpoo behind as a bad memory.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
magbarn Avatar
30 months ago
As long as Apple continues to be cheap and build their iPhones in a country that condones IP theft, expect this to continue...
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

16 inch macbook pro m2 render

When Can We Expect the Redesigned MacBook Pros Now?

Wednesday June 16, 2021 7:11 am PDT by
With no sign of redesigned MacBook Pro models at this year's WWDC, when can customers expect the much-anticipated new models to launch? A number of reports, including investor notes from Morgan Stanley and Wedbush analysts, claimed that new MacBook Pro models would be coming during this year's WWDC. This did not happen, much to the disappointment of MacBook Pro fans, who have been...
2021 back t0 school

Apple Launches 2021 Back to School Promotion: Free AirPods With Eligible Mac or iPad Purchase

Thursday June 17, 2021 4:56 am PDT by
Apple today launched its seasonal back-to-school sale for the upcoming school year in the United States and Canada, offering students free AirPods alongside purchases of select Macs and iPad models. Similar to last year's promotion, this year's offer includes free AirPods alongside the purchase of a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, the new 24-inch iMac, the Mac Pro, Mac mini, and the new M1-powered ...
maxresdefault

Apple CEO Tim Cook: Sideloading Apps Would 'Destroy the Security' of the iPhone

Wednesday June 16, 2021 10:49 am PDT by
Apple CEO Tim Cook this morning participated in a virtual interview at the VivaTech conference, which is described as Europe's biggest startup and tech event. Cook was interviewed by Guillaume Lacroix, CEO and founder of Brut, a media company that creates short-form video content. Much of the discussion centered on privacy, as it often does in interviews that Cook participates in. He...
YouTube Picture in Picture Feature

YouTube Says iOS Picture-in-Picture Coming to All US Users

Friday June 18, 2021 9:41 am PDT by
After a long wait, YouTube for iOS is officially gaining picture-in-picture support, allowing all users, non-premium and premium subscribers, to close the YouTube app and continue watching their video in a small pop-up window. In a statement to MacRumors, YouTube says that picture-in-picture is currently rolling out to all premium subscribers on iOS and that a larger rollout to all US iOS...
applecare lower prices

Apple Lowers Prices of AppleCare+ Plans for M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro

Thursday June 17, 2021 7:33 am PDT by
Apple today lowered the prices of AppleCare+ plans for MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro models equipped with the M1 chip. Coverage offered by the plans, as well as accidental damage fees, appear to remain unchanged. In the United States, AppleCare+ for the MacBook Air now costs $199, down from $249. The new price applies to both M1 and Intel-based MacBook Air models, although Apple no...
m1 v intel thumb

Intel Processor Market Share May Fall to New Low Next Year Due to Apple Silicon

Friday June 18, 2021 2:06 am PDT by
Intel may see its market share fall to a new low next year, in large part thanks to Apple's decision to move away from using Intel processors in its Mac computers and instead use Apple silicon. Apple announced last year that it would embark on a two-year-long journey to transition all of its Mac computers, both desktops, and laptops, to use its own in-house processors. Apple is expected to...
apple watch edition series 5 ceramic black prototype

Apple Planned Black Ceramic Apple Watch Edition Series 5

Wednesday June 16, 2021 5:45 am PDT by
Apple considered offering a black version of the ceramic Apple Watch Edition Series 5, according to newly-shared images of the prototype casing. The images, shared on Twitter by the prototype collector and leaker known as "Mr. White," show a prototype black ceramic Apple Watch casing, alongside the white ceramic version. The ceramic Apple Watch Edition Series 5 was never available in a...
maxresdefault

Demo: Check Out AirPlay 2 on a Mac in macOS Monterey

Tuesday June 15, 2021 11:57 am PDT by
With macOS Monterey, Apple has introduced expanded AirPlay 2 support, so you can AirPlay content from an iPhone, iPad, or even another Mac to your main Mac. We thought we'd do a quick demo of this handy new feature in our latest YouTube video. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. With AirPlay to Mac, you can extend or mirror an Apple device's display to a Mac, and since ...
app store blue banner

U.S. Antitrust Legislation Would Require Users to Be Able to Delete All Pre-Installed Apple Apps [Updated]

Wednesday June 16, 2021 11:26 am PDT by
Update: Bloomberg inaccurately interpreted the original comments and has since drastically changed the wording of its article. The original Bloomberg piece said that Apple would be prohibited from pre-installing its own apps on iPhones. The updated Bloomberg article has been rewritten to clarify that the antitrust legislation prohibits Apple from preventing users from removing Apple-created...
3nm apple silicon feature

Apple Supplier TSMC Readies 3nm Chip Production for Second Half of 2022

Friday June 18, 2021 6:59 am PDT by
Apple supplier TSMC is preparing to produce 3nm chips in the second half of 2022, and in the coming months, the supplier will begin production of 4nm chips, according to a new report from DigiTimes. Apple had previously booked the initial capacity of TSMC's 4nm chip production for future Macs and more recently ordered TSMC to begin production of the A15 chip for the upcoming iPhone 13,...