A fake iPhone charger could be used to bypass the defenses of Apple’s smartphone, three researchers from Georgia Tech have claimed. In an upcoming presentation at this summer’s Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, the researchers claim to have created a “malicious charger” which can inject software into an iOS device in under a minute.
“Apple iOS devices are considered by many to be more secure than other mobile offerings,” the researchers write. “We investigated the extent to which security threats were considered when performing everyday activities such as charging a device.”
The researchers named their “malicious charger” Mactans – a reference to latrodectus mactans, the scientific name for the black widow spider.
The fake iPhone charger was built using a basic open-source single-board computer, and can compromise current-generation iOS devices without any user interaction – injecting software which the researchers claim is very difficult to detect. “All users are affected, as our approach requires neither a jailbroken device nor user interaction,” researchers Billy Lau, Yeongjin Jang and Chengyu Song say in their talk summary.
“The results were alarming: despite the plethora of defense mechanisms in iOS, we successfully injected arbitrary software into current-generation Apple devices running the latest operating system (OS) software,” the researchers write. “To ensure persistence of the resulting infection, we show how an attacker can hide their software in the same way Apple hides its own built-in applications.”
“This hardware was selected to demonstrate the ease with which innocent-looking, malicious USB chargers can be constructed,” the researchers write. “While Mactans was built with limited amount of time and a small budget, we also briefly consider what more motivated, well-funded adversaries could accomplish.”
The researchers say that they have contacted Apple regarding the exploit, but have yet to hear back. Tthis hack is not the first to take advantage of the combined data and power port on iOS devices – many “jailbreak” hacks do so – but that this technique is much “less friendly”.