iOS 14 Features New 'BlastDoor' Messages Security System

iOS 14 added a new "BlastDoor" sandbox security system to iPhones and iPads to prevent attacks carried out with the Messages app. Apple didn't share information on the new security addition, but it was explained today by Samuel Groß, a security researcher with Google's Project Zero, and highlighted by ZDNet.

messages pinned conversations ios 14
Groß describes BlastDoor as a tightly sandboxed service that's responsible for parsing all of the untrusted data in iMessages. A sandbox is a security service that executes code separately from the OS, and this one operates within the Messages app.

BlastDoor takes a look at all incoming messages and inspects their content in a secure environment, which prevents any malicious code inside of a message from interacting with iOS or accessing user data.

project zero blastdoor

As can be seen, the majority of the processing of complex, untrusted data has been moved into the new BlastDoor service. Furthermore, this design with its 7+ involved services allows fine-grained sandboxing rules to be applied, for example, only the IMTransferAgent and apsd processes are required to perform network operations. As such, all services in this pipeline are now properly sandboxed (with the BlastDoor service arguably being sandboxed the strongest).

The feature has been designed to thwart specific attack types, such as those where hackers used shared cache or brute force attacks. As ZDNet points out, security researchers have been finding iMessage remote code execution bugs over the past few years that could allow an iPhone to be infiltrated with just a text, which BlastDoor should address.

Groß found the new ‌iOS 14‌ feature after investigating a Messages hacking campaign that targeted Al Jazeera journalists. The attack wasn't working in ‌iOS 14‌, and investigating why led to his discovery of BlastDoor.

According to Groß, Apple's BlastDoor changes are "close to the best that could've been done given the need for backwards compatibility," and will make the iMessage platform significantly more secure.

This blog post discussed three improvements in iOS 14 affecting iMessage security: the BlastDoor service, resliding of the shared cache, and exponential throttling. Overall, these changes are probably very close to the best that could've been done given the need for backwards compatibility, and they should have a significant impact on the security of iMessage and the platform as a whole.

It's great to see Apple putting aside the resources for these kinds of large refactorings to improve end users' security. Furthermore, these changes also highlight the value of offensive security work: not just single bugs were fixed, but instead structural improvements were made based on insights gained from exploit development work.

Those interested in the full rundown on how BlastDoor works can visit the Project Zero blog post on the subject.

Top Rated Comments

Brandon42 Avatar
8 months ago

How am I really suppose to trust that my messages aren't being passed through a government server ??
I checked with the FBI van that always parks outside and they say you can trust the government in this situation.
Score: 44 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jaworskimatt Avatar
8 months ago

So yeah, your messages are already on a govt server, before they hit your iPhone or any phone.
Not with end to end encryption, they aren't - which is why everyone should care about that. And why govts are slowly gearing up to outlaw "unbreakable" encryption.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Osamede Avatar
8 months ago

How am I really suppose to trust that my messages aren't being passed through a government server ??
Snowden is stuck in exile and still no one seems to grasp what he revealed that got him in trouble: the government ( or a least the government where he was from) collects ALL your data, everybody’s data, period.

So yeah, your messages are already on a govt server, before they hit your iPhone or any phone.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cmaier Avatar
8 months ago

Hopefully not. No point in giving bad actors any kind of advantage in defeating iOS security.
Security through obscurity is not a good strategy
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
coolfactor Avatar
8 months ago
I love the fun names that Apple comes up with for these features.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
hot-gril Avatar
8 months ago

Not with end to end encryption, they aren't - which is why everyone should care about that. And why govts are slowly gearing up to outlaw "unbreakable" encryption.
We have low visibility into Apple's code, and even if it were open src, we'd not know whether their servers are always giving us the correct identities for others we message. Also, if your messages are backed up on iCloud, that's not e2ee'd, according to Apple.

Not to sound paranoid. I use it anyway. It's just not airtight.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iOS 14 on iPhone feature emergency

Apple Won't Make You Upgrade to iOS 15 and Will Continue to Provide Security Updates for iOS 14

Monday June 7, 2021 12:27 pm PDT by
Apple plans to allow iPhone and iPad users to remain on iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 even after the launch of the iOS and iPadOS 15 updates, according to new details on the software pages for the new updates. iOS now offers a choice between two software update versions in the Settings app. You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it's released for the latest features and most complete ...
14

iOS 14.5 to Make Zero-Click Attacks 'Significantly Harder'

Monday February 22, 2021 9:05 am PST by
Apple's impending iOS and iPadOS 14.5 update will make zero-click attacks considerably more difficult by extending PAC security provisions, according to Motherboard. Apple has made a change to the way in which it secures its code in the latest betas of iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 to make zero-click attacks much harder. The change, spotted by security researchers, has now been confirmed by...
iu 2 1

Security Researchers Discover XcodeSpy Malware That Targets Developers

Thursday March 18, 2021 11:39 am PDT by
Developers need to look out for "XcodeSpy," a malicious Xcode project that installs a custom variant of the "EggShell" backdoor on a macOS computer, according to new research shared today by SentinelOne (via Ars Technica). Xcode is software designed for developers who want to write apps for the iOS and macOS platforms, and the malicious project that's circulating mirrors TabBarInteraction, a ...
macos monterey microphone indicator

Apple Highlights New Privacy Features in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, Including Microphone Indicator on Mac

Monday June 7, 2021 2:01 pm PDT by
Apple today previewed new privacy protections coming in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8. The software updates are available in beta for developers starting today and will be publicly released later this year. First, a new App Privacy Report feature will let users see how often apps have used the permission they've previously granted to access their location, photos, camera,...
f1623088657

Apple Announces iCloud+, Combines Paid Storage With Privacy Features Like Hide My Email

Monday June 7, 2021 11:00 am PDT by
At WWDC, Apple announced that iCloud is getting a premium subscription tier called "iCloud+," which includes "Private Relay" that allows users to browse the web through Safari with all information leaving their device remaining encrypted and access to "Hide My Email." One of the headlining features for iCloud+ is Private Relay, which, similarly to a VPN, ensures that all traffic leaving a...
homekit secure video package

HomeKit Secure Video Cameras Can Notify You When a Package Has Arrived Starting With iOS 15

Monday June 7, 2021 4:09 pm PDT by
Starting with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, which will be publicly released in the fall, security cameras and video doorbells that support HomeKit Secure Video can now detect and notify you when a package has been delivered. HomeKit Secure Video, available on iOS 13.2 and later, leverages iCloud to securely stream and store video clips from compatible HomeKit-enabled indoor and outdoor cameras and...
apple findmy network feature

Find My Network Exploited to Send Messages

Wednesday May 12, 2021 8:11 am PDT by
An exploit allows messages and additional data to be sent across Apple's Find My network, according to the findings of a security researcher. Security researcher Fabian Bräunlein has found a way to leverage Apple's Find My network to function as a generic data transfer mechanism, allowing non-internet-connected devices to upload arbitrary data by using nearby Apple devices to upload the...
jamf malware secret screenshots

macOS Big Sur 11.4 Addresses Vulnerability That Could Let Attackers Take Secret Screenshots

Monday May 24, 2021 5:26 pm PDT by
macOS Big Sur 11.4, which was released this morning, addresses a zero-day vulnerability that could allow attackers to piggyback off of apps like Zoom, taking secret screenshots and surrepetiously recording the screen. Jamf, a mobile device management company, today highlighted a security issue that allowed Privacy preferences to be bypassed, providing an attacker with Full Disk Access,...
apple park drone june 2018 2

Unreleased MacBook Schematics Stolen in $50 Million Ransomware Attack on Apple Supplier

Wednesday April 21, 2021 2:47 am PDT by
As Apple held its "Spring Loaded" event where it unveiled brand new iPad Pros, a redesigned iMac, and the long-awaited release of AirTags, one of its main MacBook suppliers was undergoing a ransomware attack worth $50 million. As reported by Bloomberg, the ransomware group called REvil, publicly declared early on Tuesday that it had accessed the internal computers of Apple supplier Quanta...
macOS Big Sur Feature Blue

Update to macOS 11.4 NOW - Someone Could Be Spying On You

Sunday May 30, 2021 9:40 am PDT by
Apple's recently released macOS Big Sur 11.4 update addresses a serious security vulnerability, so all users should complete the software update immediately. Jamf, a mobile device management company, raised a major security issue in macOS Big Sur that allowed attackers to piggyback apps like Zoom to surreptitiously take screenshots and record the screen. The exploit allowed a user's Privacy...