A security bug in Apple's iOS enables hackers to take control of iPhone and iPad apps, using them to steal people's photos, contacts and even send SMS messages without the user’s knowledge, according to a prominent Apple hacker.
Charlie Miller, a computer security researcher at Accuvant said that the bug proves the Apple App Store is not as safe as promoted. "Until now, you could just blindly trust and download as many applications as you wanted and not worry about it," Miller said. "But until they fix this, you really should think twice about any applications you are downloading, because they could be malicious," he added.
Miller said he notified Apple to the bug three weeks ago and they replied that a fix was in the works. He plans to show people how the bug operates at an upcoming computer security conference in Taiwan, called SyScan. Currently, he has not released details that would allow hackers to take advantage of the discovered security flaw, and he said he has no evidence that hackers have used the hole to manipulate the said samrtphones.
Miller said he has exposed the bug to prevent a hacker with bad intentions from taking advantage of iPhone and iPad owners. For that discovery, he said, Apple banned him from the iOS developer program for a year.
"I think it is pretty rude," he said. "If you think about what I'm doing – I am pointing out a flaw that would affect every Apple user and that the bad guys could use to install malware. And they are not paying me, I am just doing it to be nice."
If hackers found the security flaw, he warned, any iOS application could be compromised in a way that malicious code could be installed through the app and onto the device. "It could grab your address book and send it to the bad guy," he explained.
That's a very important issue for Apple's App Store, he said, since until now, that online marketplace for iPhone and iPad programs had been free of malicious software. Apple checks each application before it is approved for sale at the App Store, which allows the company to keep bugs out.
This hack could take advantage of a flaw in that checking system to compromise any application, Miller said. He said that essentially reduces the App Store's security to that of the Google Android Market, since Google does not screen applications in the way Apple does. But in general, the App Store is still safer than the Android Market, Miller said.
"It is totally just a blip," he said of the security hole. "I'm very happy with the way they designed the system to prevent malicious software. It's really the ideal situation." He added, "The app store is a very safe environment except for this. It just shows that you are never completely safe."