Apple’s Debt to Jailbreakers Grows as Hacker Finds iOS Security Flaw
High-profile jailbreak developer pod2g has uncovered what he calls a “severe” security flaw in iOS that allows people to spoof SMS text messages. Note to Apple HR: Hire this guy immediately.
An Open Invitation to Hackers
The issue, as pod2g explains it, has to do with a piece of data that’s included in every text message. In what’s known as the user data header, there’s an option to swap out a different reply-to number. This allows hackers to spoof texts as they do email messages.
“In a good implementation of this feature, the receiver would see the original phone number and the reply-to one,” pod2g writes. “On iPhone, when you see the message, it seems to come from the reply-to number, and you loose track of the origin.”
This loophole could be used to spoof for any variety of purposes, from pranks among friends to phishing bank account details from unsuspecting iPhone owners. Surprisingly, there haven’t been any major reports of this exploit being used, even though apparently it has been present in iOS for years.
Why Apple Needs Jailbreakers
What would Apple do without hackers like pod2g? His discovery is just the latest example of how Apple has benefited from the efforts of the jailbreak community. The community of developers who specialize in jailbreaking iOS are constantly doing huge favors for the company, free of charge.
Nonetheless, Apple’s relationship with jailbreakers is complicated. On one hand, the company discourages users from jailbreaking their devices by voiding their warranties and, until recently, took a hard line against developers who produce jailbreak software, going so far as to accuse them of being in league with drug dealers and terrorists. On the other, more than a few features developed by jailbreak developers have found their way into iOS over the last few years. Notification Center, one of iOS 5’s biggest enhancements, was evidently borrowed from a feature previously available only in Cydia, the digital storefront of unauthorized iOS apps and tweaks.
Not only has Apple lifted features from the jailbreak community; it has brought a few jailbreakers into the fold, too. Nicholas Allegra, the hacker better known as Comex, ceased development on his widely popular JailbreakMe tool last summer when Apple hired him. A few months earlier, Peter Hajas, the programmer who created the aforementioned overhaul of iOS notifications, started working in Cupertino himself. Four former jailbreakers have landed jobs with Apple to date.
Apple hasn’t responded publicly to pod2g’s latest findings, but all eyes will be on the iOS team to see if this flaw is fixed ahead of the public debut of iOS 6.