VPNs for iOS Are Broken and Apple Knows It, Says Security Researcher

Third-party VPNs made for iPhones and iPads routinely fail to route all network traffic through a secure tunnel after they have been turned on, something Apple has known about for years, a longtime security researcher has claimed (via ArsTechnica).

settings
Writing on a continually updated blog post, Michael Horowitz says that after testing multiple types of virtual private network (VPN) software on iOS devices, most appear to work fine at first, issuing the device a new public IP address and new DNS servers, and sending data to the VPN server. However, over time the VPN tunnel leaks data.

Typically, when a users connects to a VPN, the operating system closes all existing internet connections and then re-establishes them through the VPN tunnel. That is not what Horowitz has observed in his advanced router logging. Instead, sessions and connections established before the VPN is turned on are not terminated as one would expect, and can still send data outside the VPN tunnel while it is active, leaving it potentially unencrypted and exposed to ISPs and other parties.

"Data leaves the iOS device outside of the VPN tunnel," Horowitz writes. "This is not a classic/legacy DNS leak, it is a data leak. I confirmed this using multiple types of VPN and software from multiple VPN providers. The latest version of iOS that I tested with is 15.6."

Horowitz claims that his findings are backed up by a similar report issued in March 2020 by privacy company Proton, which said an iOS VPN bypass vulnerability had been identified in iOS 13.3.1 which persisted through three subsequent updates to iOS 13.

According to Proton, Apple indicated it would add Kill Switch functionality to a future software update that would allow developers to block all existing connections if a VPN tunnel is lost.

However, the added functionality does not appear to have affected the results of Horowitz's tests, which were performed in May 2022 on an iPadOS 15.4.1 using Proton's VPN client, and the researcher says any suggestions that it would prevent the data leaks are "off base."

Horowitz has recently continued his tests with iOS 15.6 installed and OpenVPN running the WireGuard protocol, but his iPad continues to make requests outside of the encrypted tunnel to both Apple services and Amazon Web Services.

As noted by ArsTechnica, Proton suggests a workaround to the problem that involves activating the VPN and then turning Airplane mode on and off to force all network traffic to be re-established through the VPN tunnel.

However, Proton admits that this is not guaranteed to work, while Horowitz claims Airplane mode is not reliable in itself, and should not be relied on as a solution to the problem. We've reached out to Apple for comment on the research and will update this post if we hear back.

Top Rated Comments

xxray Avatar
15 weeks ago
I remember this getting reported on a couple years ago, and never getting an update. I just assumed it had been fixed.

I’m so glad my privacy has been compromised for the last 2.5 years and still is being compromised while Apple knows about it and does nothing about it.
Score: 64 Votes (Like | Disagree)
antiprotest Avatar
15 weeks ago
While other companies screw you on the cloud, Apple screws you "on device."
Score: 44 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BootsWalking Avatar
15 weeks ago
This may seem like a benign annoyance but some people rely on VPNs for very important situations, like reporters who need it to protect their sources or themselves.
Score: 44 Votes (Like | Disagree)
arkitect Avatar
15 weeks ago
Ah, well that probably explains why on my last trip to *cough* a country that shall remain unnamed, but where the Fruit company has many things manufactured *cough* my VPN went tits up and I was unable to use my favourite search engine.

FFS Apple!
Score: 31 Votes (Like | Disagree)
VulchR Avatar
15 weeks ago
Nice to know Apple was faffing about with CSAM stuff while this vulnerability just sat there. Perhaps Apple should refund those of us who pay for VPN services? I live in the UK, where pretty much everybody, at every level of government, can gain access to your browsing history unless you use a VPN.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JM Avatar
15 weeks ago
Come on, y’all. Little ol’ Apple is doing the best they can. Bless their heart.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

Lockdown Mode Feature

iOS 16 VPN Tunnels Leak Data, Even When Lockdown Mode Is Enabled

Thursday October 13, 2022 8:41 am PDT by
iOS 16 continues to leak data outside an active VPN tunnel, even when Lockdown mode is enabled, security researchers have discovered. Speaking to MacRumors, security researchers Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry explained that iOS 16's approach to VPN traffic is the same whether Lockdown mode is enabled or not. The news is significant since iOS has a persistent, unresolved issue with leaking...
appleprivacyad cleaned

Apple Hit With Class Action Alleging It Tracks Users Despite Privacy Assurances

Monday November 14, 2022 4:56 am PST by
Apple is facing a proposed federal class action alleging that it records users' mobile activity without their consent and despite privacy assurances, in violation of the California Invasion of Privacy Act, reports Bloomberg. In a lawsuit filed by New York citizen and iPhone 13 owner Elliot Libman, Apple is accused of "utterly false" assurances that users are in control of what information...
appleprivacyad cleaned

Apple Device Analytics Contain Identifying iCloud User Data, Claim Security Researchers

Monday November 21, 2022 1:22 am PST by
A new analysis has claimed that Apple's device analytics contain information that can directly link information about how a device is used, its performance, features, and more, directly to a specific user, despite Apple's claims otherwise. On Twitter, security researchers Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry have found that Apple's device analytics data includes an ID called "dsId," which stands...
ios 16 2 security response update

Apple Releases Rapid Security Response Update for iOS 16.2 Beta Users [Updated]

Wednesday November 16, 2022 1:43 pm PST by
One of the new features in iOS 16 is Rapid Security Response, which lets Apple push out important security fixes to users without requiring a full iOS update. For users running the iOS 16.2 beta, Apple today released one of those updates to deliver unspecified bug fixes affecting the software. iOS Security Response 16.2 (a) arrives via the standard Software Update mechanism in the Settings...
apple security research

Apple Launches New Security Research Website

Thursday October 27, 2022 12:05 pm PDT by
Apple today introduced Apple Security Research, a new website that is dedicated to improving the methods available to security researchers for reporting issues to Apple. The site offers up tools for sending Apple security reports, getting real-time status updates, and communicating with Apple engineers. In addition to housing information on the Apple Security Bounty program, the website is a ...
iOS 15 General Feature Purple

Apple Releases iPadOS and iOS 15.7.1 With Important Security Fixes

Thursday October 27, 2022 10:12 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 15.7.1 and iPadOS 15.7.1, operating system updates that are designed for older iPhones and iPads unable to run iOS 16 and iPadOS 16. The updates are also available to those who have chosen not to update to iOS 16 at this time. The ‌iOS and iPadOS 15.7.1‌ updates can be downloaded on eligible iPhones and iPads over-the-air by going to Settings > General >...
safari icon blue banner

Some iPhone and iPad Users Seeing Strange Safari Crashes When Searching [Update: Fixed]

Monday November 14, 2022 9:44 am PST by
Some iPhone and iPad users appear to be experiencing a curious bug in Safari at the current time, with the app crashing when certain search terms are entered. The bug has been going on since last night, from what we can tell, and affected users are running a variant of iOS 16, though there are also reports from iOS 15 users. Reports suggest that Safari crashes after the first three letters...
mixpanel ios 16 adoption

iOS 16 Adoption Outpaces iOS 15 Adoption in First Two Days

Wednesday September 14, 2022 3:23 pm PDT by
iOS 16 is installed on an estimated 11.6 percent of iPhones two days after it launched, according to data shared by analytics company Mixpanel. The iOS 16 update was released to the public on Monday morning, and the site's data is accurate as of 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday morning. When iOS 15 was released last year, it was installed on just 8.5 percent of devices at the two day...

Popular Stories

General Black Friday Deals 2022 Green

All the Apple Black Friday Deals You Can Still Get

Friday November 25, 2022 4:40 am PST by
Although Black Friday is now technically over, many Apple products are still seeing major discounts through the weekend as we head into Cyber Monday. In this article, you'll find every Apple device with a notable Black Friday sale that's still available. We'll be updating as prices change and new deals arrive, so be sure to keep an eye out if you don't see the sale you're looking for yet. Note:...
iphone 14 pro hands snowflakes 1

Best Cyber Monday iPhone Deals Available Today

Wednesday November 23, 2022 1:55 pm PST by
Cellular carriers have always offered big savings on the newest iPhone models during the holidays, and Cyber Monday is no different. We're tracking notable offers on the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro devices from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. For even more savings, keep an eye on older models like the iPhone 13. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a...
maxresdefault

Nothing Phone 1 Displays AirPods Battery Level After Latest OS Update

Friday November 25, 2022 3:33 am PST by
Nothing Phone 1 users today began receiving the Nothing OS 1.1.7 update, which adds support for displaying the battery percentage of connected AirPods, amongst other improvements and bug fixes. If you own a Nothing Phone 1, you can check for the OTA update by going to Settings -> System -> System updates. Bear in mind that as support for displaying AirPods battery level is still an...
ipad holiday bulbs

Best Cyber Monday iPad Deals Available Today

Thursday November 24, 2022 12:25 pm PST by
Cyber Monday deals have been in full swing since Black Friday deals ended, and we're seeing solid discounts on Apple devices. We're highlighting the best sales for all of Apple's product lines, and in this article you'll find the best Cyber Monday sales on iPad, iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad mini. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make ...
airpods pro 2

Apple Engineer Addresses Lack of Lossless Support on New AirPods Pro

Friday November 25, 2022 2:58 am PST by
An Apple engineer has addressed the lack of lossless audio support in the second-generation AirPods Pro in a new interview. Current Bluetooth technology in the AirPods lineup means that Apple's audio products do not support Apple Music Lossless audio. Apple has previously hinted that it may develop its own codec and connectivity standard that builds on AirPlay and supports higher quality...
Cyber Monday Deals Feature 2022

Best Cyber Monday Apple Deals for AirPods, Apple TV 4K, iPad, More

Monday November 28, 2022 5:24 am PST by
Now that Black Friday is over, the internet's attention has shifted to Cyber Monday deals today. Of course, for Apple products this means that many of the deals you saw last week are basically the same today. Despite this repetition, it's a great chance for anyone who missed out on Black Friday deals to still get the year's best prices on many Apple devices. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate...
Apple Watch Ultra Oceanic Plus App

Apple Announces Oceanic+ App Now Available for Apple Watch Ultra

Monday November 28, 2022 6:11 am PST by
Apple today announced that the Oceanic+ app is available for the Apple Watch Ultra starting today. Designed by Huish Outdoors in collaboration with Apple, the app serves as a dive computer for recreational scuba diving at depths up to 40 meters/130 feet. Apple already offers a basic Depth app on the Apple Watch Ultra for viewing your current depth, maximum depth reached, water temperature,...
Three Biggest iPhone SE 4 Questions Feature

Three Biggest Questions About the iPhone SE 4

Saturday November 26, 2022 12:00 am PST by
While we already have some clear indications about what to expect from the fourth-generation iPhone SE, there are three major questions looming over the device at the current time. Chinese site MyDrivers and and leaker Jon Prosser believe that the iPhone SE is set to move to an iPhone XR-like design in its next incarnation, which would involve eliminating the Home button and adding a "notch" ...