Update your iThings NOW: Apple splats scary SSL snooping bug in iOS


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Updated Apple has released updates for its mobile operating system iOS to patch a bug that can blow apart the integrity of encrypted connections.

Versions 7.0.6 and 6.1.6, available now for download, fixes a vulnerability that could allow “an attacker with a privileged network position” to “capture or modify data in sessions protected by SSL/TLS,” according to the iPhone maker. This is due to the Secure Transport component of the operating system failing to validate “the authenticity of the connection,” suggesting some sort of failure to verify the certificate or identity of whatever system a vulnerable iDevice was connected to.

In short, users should apply the security update as soon as possible to avoid falling foul of a man-in-the-middle attack: we can imagine a malicious router or Wi-Fi access point exploiting this iOS flaw to silently masquerade as a legit server, and thus intercept and decrypt the contents of a supposedly secure connection.

SSL and TLS are used the world over to prevent eavesdroppers from snooping on network traffic to and from sensitive services, such as banking and shopping websites and email servers. But this only works if the other end of the connection can be verified and trusted.

Apple admits “this issue was addressed by restoring missing validation steps.” It reserved CVE-2014-1266 for the bug on January 8 this year, but when and how exactly the flaw was introduced and subsequently discovered is not clear.

The patch, weighing in between 16MB and 35MB, can be applied to any handheld running iOS 7, and even iPhone 3GSes and fourth-generation iPods running version 6 – a further clue that Apple considers this a very serious bug.

The next major release, iOS 7.1, is due out in March once developers have finished beta testing it. ®

Updated to add

For those wondering how the bug works, the cat has been out of the bag for hours. It appears that when using iOS’s Secure Transport component to establish an encrypted connection, the system does not check that the “common name” record (a hostname pattern, such as * in a server’s SSL certificate matches the server’s IP address (eg,

Exactly how one could exploit this knowledge to spy on a victim is not for The Reg to disclose at this time. But we have been able to confirm it is possible to pull off a man-in-the-middle attack by exploiting this particular bug.

The bad news is that this blunder is also present in Mac OS X 10.9.1, the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system. We’re told it’s fixed in the 10.9.2 build in beta among third-party developers and is awaiting release.

The good news is that software not using Cupertino’s faulty Secure Transport component, such as the Google Chrome web browser, are immune to the bug in that they should flag up failed certificate checks. Developers of download tool Curl, a port of which Apple bundles in OS X, spotted the shift to Secure Transport from OpenSSL back in October.

“Update your Apple devices and systems as soon as possible to the latest available versions. Do not use untrusted networks (especially Wi-Fi) while traveling, until you can update the devices from a trusted network,” advises Alex Radocea of computer security tech biz CrowdStrike in a technical briefing about today’s SSL vulnerability.

“On unpatched mobile and laptop devices, set ‘Ask to Join Networks’ setting to OFF, which will prevent them from showing prompts to connect to untrusted networks.”

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