Apple fixes fake iPhone charger vulnerability

Researchers take remote control of iPads and iPhones through fake chargers

1 Aug 2013

Apple will patch a flaw that could let hackers take remote control of iPhones and iPads then docked on fake charging stations.

Most users are still vulnerable to the bug until they receive Apple’s next major software update, iOS 7, this autumn.

Three computer scientists, who alerted Apple to the problem earlier this year, demonstrated the vulnerability at the Black Hat convention this week.

Apple said the issue had been fixed in the latest beta of iOS 7, which has already been released to software developers.

"We would like to thank the researchers for their valuable input," an Apple spokesman said.

The work was done by Billy Lau, a research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and graduate students Yeongjin Jang and Chengyu Song.

Snooping and stealing

In a demonstration at the hacking conference, they plugged an iPhone into a custom-built charger they equipped with a tiny Linux computer that was programmed to attack iOS devices. They said it cost about $45 to buy and a week to design.

It infected the phone with a virus designed to dial the phone of one of the researchers, which it did.

They said that real-world cyber criminals might build viruses that would give them remote control of the devices. That would enable them to take screen shots for stealing banking passwords and credit card numbers. They could also access emails, texts and contact information or track the location of the phone's owner, Lau said.

"It can become a spying tool," said Lau. Lau said his team was publicising the issue in the spirit of "white hat" hacking.

"Security doesn't work if you bury problems," he told Reuters.

Lau said that devices running Android are not vulnerable to the same types of attack because they warn users if they plug devices into a computer, even one posing as a charging station.

After Apple's iOS 7 software update, a message will pop up to alert the user that they are connecting to a computer, not an ordinary charger, he said.

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