Once Apple releases iOS 7, likely this fall, iPhones and iPods will respond to USB chargers in the same way that Android devices already do. If a charger is detected as being a computer and not an ordinary charger, users will be notified and will then have to choose whether or not to “trust” the charger, which should help protect against hack attempts.
Computer scientists from Georgia Tech showed off their ability to hack an iOS device in less than a minute during a presentation at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this week. The researchers first announced the hack was possible in June, but finally detailed how the vulnerabilities in iOS devices could be exploited.
The researchers were able to inject malware into a device by using a custom-made power adapter that had a Linux-based program installed on it. Since current iOS devices will receive commands from a charger seeing it as a regular USB host , the hack is relatively simple. Theoretically anyone would be able to hack a device as long as they can get their hands on an unlocked iPhone or iPod.
Apple has since responded to the demonstration stating that the vulnerability will be fixed in iOS 7. Following the initial announcement of the flaw, Apple introduced a patch into the beta version of the coming operating system.
Was There Really a Risk?
With all the steps necessary to carry out an attack by exploiting this type of vulnerability, it seems unlikely that someone would ever be able to do so in a real-life scenario. However, there are far more chances for this type of hack to occur than the average user realizes.
In the aftermath of recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, multiple companies stepped up to offer public phone chargers in airport terminals as well as around a devastated area. AT&T and GoPhone are two of the leading companies behind these public charging stations. GoPhone in particular has nine locations scattered around New York, and all it takes is someone to switch out a charger to hack a device.
The researchers from Georgia Tech showed that by simply plugging in a phone, they were able to switch out a regular Facebook app with a malware-infected one, resulting in the hacker being able to see whenever passwords or sensitive information were entered into the infected device.
Luckily, someone that wants to carry out this attack would require an Apple Developer account, and even though it is just a matter of paying a small fee, the number of potential hackers is limited greatly by that requirement.
The iOS 7 Fix
Once iOS 7 is released, iPhones and iPods will respond to USB chargers in the same way that Android devices already do. If a charger is detected as being a computer and not an ordinary charger, users will be notified and will then have to choose whether or not to “trust” the charger.
Between the low chance that someone would have their device hacked in this manner and the addition of a manual “trust” or “don’t trust” notification, this vulnerability is not likely to cause any harm. Whether it is actually worth worrying about or not, iOS 7 should be released in the fall and will patch the vulnerability.