Hackers are exploiting a flaw affecting the Apple digital rights management technology (DRM) to install malicious apps on every iOS device, even non-jailbroken ones.
Last month, security experts at Palo Alto Networks firm spotted three malicious applications deployed on the official App Store that were developed to steal Apple IDs and passwords from Chinese users.
The interesting part of the discovery made by Palo Alto is related to the ability of the three apps to be silently installed through software running on Windows machines.
The only ways to install a mobile app on an iOS device that hasn’t been jailbroken, is to download it from the official App Store or install it through the iTunes software from users’ PCs. In this second scenario, the device verifies the legitimate origin of the app with the Apple’s FairPlay DRM technology.
In 2014, a team of researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology presented at the USENIX conference, a method through which an iOS device could be tricked to install any app, previously acquired by a different Apple ID, through the iTunes.
At this point the attack scenario is clear, hackers can remotely install apps on iOS device connected to an already compromised PC.
Without this premise, now researchers at Palo Alto Networks confirmed that hackers in the wild are still using this trick to serve a malicious app named AceDeceiver on non-jailbroken devices.
“We’ve discovered a new family of iOS malware that successfully infected non-jailbroken devices we’ve named “AceDeceiver”. states a blog post published by Palo Alto Networks.
“What makes AceDeceiver different from previous iOS malware is that instead of abusing enterprise certificates as some iOS malware has over the past two years, AceDeceiver manages to install itself without any enterprise certificate at all. It does so by exploiting design flaws in Apple’s DRM mechanism, and even as Apple has removed AceDeceiver from App Store, it may still spread thanks to a novel attack vector.”
The threat actors first uploaded their apps to the App Store, managing to pass Apple’s review process by submitting them as wallpapers. Once the apps are deployed on the official store they purchased the apps through the iTunes in order to capture the DRM FairPlay authorization code.
The crooks developed a client software that simulates the iTunes and distributed it in China masquerading it as a helper program for iOS devices that can perform system reinstallation, jailbreaking, system backup, device management, and system cleaning.
“To carry out the attack, the author created a Windows client called ”爱思助手 (Aisi Helper)” to perform the FairPlay MITM attack. Aisi Helper purports to be software that provides services for iOS devices such as system re-installation, jailbreaking, system backup, device management and system cleaning.” continues the post.
When users connected their iOS devices to a computer running this software, it silently installed AceDeceiver by using the authorization code captured when the app was first deployed on the official store.
“By deploying authorized computer in the C2 server, and using a client software as agent in the middle, the attacker can distribute that purchased iOS app to unlimited iOS devices.” reads the post.
What happen if Apple removes the AceDeceiver apps from the official store?
Nothing, the technique presented by the researchers at USENIX in 2014 works even if the app has been removed from the App Store because attackers already have the authorization code they need to complete the installation.
“Even if an app has been removed from the App Store, attackers can still distribute their own copies to iOS users.” the team of experts explained at the USENIX conference.
The technique used to serve the AceDeceiver malware is very dangerous, in the future other criminal gangs could start using it.
“Our analysis of AceDeceiver leads us to believe FairPlay MITM attack will become another popular attack vector for non-jailbroken iOS devices – and thus a threat to Apple device users worldwide. Palo Alto Networks has released IPS signatures (38914, 38915) and has updated URL filtering and Threat Prevention to protect customers from the AceDeceiver Trojan as well as the FairPlay MITM attack technique.” states the Palo Alto.
Apple users beware, no one is immune!
(Security Affairs – FairPlay MITM attack, AceDeceiver)
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