Georgia Tech researchers hack iPhone with malicious wall-charger

By on June 3, 2013, 5:00 PM

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology are claiming that they have developed a method to inject arbitrary software into iOS via a USB wall-charger.

This ostensibly innocuous charger, which the researchers have named “Mactans,” can be used to install malicious software without requiring any user input or the phone to be jailbroken, and completes installation in less than a minute, Forbes reports.

The announcement comes ahead of the Black Hat security conference scheduled for late July. The team from Georgia Tech has not released any details of their work, but plan to show off a proof-of-concept at the conference.

The charger was built using a BeagleBone, a $45 open-source single-board computer. This small PCB measures 3.4 x 2.1 inches, so it’s not going to fit into a standard sized Apple charging unit, but could easily be installed into a docking station or external battery pack.

The team warns that a group with more resources could potentially build a device that is more advanced, suggesting it’s possible to make it even smaller: “While Mactans was built with [a] limited amount of time and a small budget, we also briefly consider what more motivated, well-funded adversaries could accomplish."

What’s more, the researchers say that the malicious software injects itself in a manner that disguises it similarly to the way Apple hides its own inbuilt software, so that the user cannot see or modify it. The hack can compromise iOS devices running the latest version of the operating system.

One of the Georgia Tech researchers, Yeongjin Jang, said that his team reached out to Apple regarding the exploit on Friday, but they haven’t yet received a response.




User Comments: 4

Got something to say? Post a comment
Win7Dev said:

Let's be realistic here. iPhone users aren't concerned about their device security all that much. If they were that concerned, they wouldn't be using an iOS device. It's all too easy to clone the drive of an iPhone and run the iOS installed on the device in a virtual environment. Once in a virtual environment, brute forcing a 4 digit passcode will take mere milliseconds. If a password is used instead of a pin, it might take up to an hour for a 7 char pass with symbols and capital letters or numbers. Essentially any password up to 12 characters is crackable within a week on an iPhone and 13-14 characters is possible within a week using distributed resources across a cluster.

Sunny87 said:

Let's be realistic here. iPhone users aren't concerned about their device security all that much. If they were that concerned, they wouldn't be using an iOS device. It's all too easy to clone the drive of an iPhone and run the iOS installed on the device in a virtual environment. Once in a virtual environment, brute forcing a 4 digit passcode will take mere milliseconds. If a password is used instead of a pin, it might take up to an hour for a 7 char pass with symbols and capital letters or numbers. Essentially any password up to 12 characters is crackable within a week on an iPhone and 13-14 characters is possible within a week using distributed resources across a cluster.

Let's be even more realistic and say that if anyone is concerned about their security, they wouldn't buy any digital device, or sign up to any services full stop.

Kevin82485 Kevin82485 said:

Great, now I can't trust to buy those really cheap $3 wall chargers on ebay/amazon.

Guest said:

The BeagleBone is about as big as your phone.

You'd notice if it were attached to the charger.

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