Wik­iLeaks: CIA hack­ing of Ap­ple de­vices is de­tailed,

But ex­perts say doc­u­ments per­tain to old iPhone 3G.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Anick Jes­da­nun

New doc­u­ments from Wik­iLeaks point to an ap­par­ent CIA pro­gram to hack Ap­ple’s iPhones and Mac com­put­ers us­ing tech­niques that users couldn’t dis­able by re­set­ting their de­vices.

Se­cu­rity ex­perts say the exploits are plau­si­ble, but sug­gest they pose lit­tle threat to typ­i­cal users. They say that many of the tricks are older — the iPhone hack in­volves the 3G model from 2008, for in­stance. The tech­niques also typ­i­cally re­quire phys­i­cal ac­cess to de­vices, some­thing the CIA would use only for tar­geted in­di­vid­u­als, not a broader pop­u­la­tion.

“The most no­table part of this lat­est Wik­iLeaks re­lease is that it shows the CIA do­ing ex­actly what we pay them to — ex­ploit spe­cific tar­gets with limited at­tacks to sup­port our na­tional in­ter­ests,” said Rich Mogull, CEO of the se­cu­rity re­search firm Se­curo­sis.

Ap­ple didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. The CIA has not com­mented on the au­then­tic­ity of this and ear­lier Wik­iLeaks rev­e­la­tions, but has pre­vi­ously said it com­plies with a le­gal pro­hi­bi­tion against elec­tronic sur­veil­lance “tar­get­ing in­di­vid­u­als here at home, in­clud­ing our fel­low Amer­i­cans.” The agency de­clined fur­ther com­ment Thurs­day.

The leaks Thurs­day come a bout two weeks af­ter Wik­iLeaks pub­lished thou­sands of al­leged CIA doc­u­ments de­scrib­ing hack­ing tools it said the govern­ment em­ployed to break into com­put­ers, mo­bile phones and even smart TVs from com­pa­nies like Ap­ple, Google, Mi­crosoft and Sam­sung.

The lat­est dis­clo­sures are much more fo­cused and con­sist of just 12 doc­u­ments, all in­volv­ing Ap­ple prod­ucts. The doc­u­ments de­scribe tech­niques for rewrit­ing de­vices’ firmware in ways that would main­tain a hacker’s ac­cess even if a user re­sets a phone or com­puter to fac­tory set­tings. Do­ing so wipes out all apps and the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and in­stalls a clean ver­sion; it is an ex­treme mea­sure some­times used to deal with tech­ni­cal prob­lems, but is also the sort of step that some­one sus­pi­cious of sur­veil­lance might take when get­ting a brand-new phone.

A De­cem­ber 2008 doc­u­ment de­scribes “NightSkies,” a tool ap­par­ently de­signed to tar­get the iPhone 3G; the doc­u­ment claims it can re­trieve files such as con­tact lists and call logs and ex­e­cute other com­mands. Wik­iLeaks sug­gested in a press re­lease that the “CIA has been in­fect­ing the iPhone sup­ply chain of its tar­gets since at least 2008.”

How­ever, the doc­u­ment de­scribes only how to in­stall the mal­ware on a “fac­tory fresh” ver­sion of the 3G — specif­i­cally, the iPhone 3G run­ning the 2.1 ver­sion of Ap­ple’s op­er­at­ing sys­tem, both of which are now nine years old.

But in­fect­ing all phones some­where in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, said Mogull, es­pe­cially given mul­ti­ple lay­ers of in­spec­tions con­ducted by Ap­ple and its con­trac­tors. At most, he said, the CIA might have shipped a rogue phone in­di­vid­u­ally to a tar­get.

And while it’s pos­si­ble that the CIA deve l oped sim­i­lar tech­niques for later iPhone mod­els, Mogull said iPhones from the past few years have much greater se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing dig­i­tal se­cu­rity cer­tifi­cates that can­not be over­writ­ten. A flag would be raised dur­ing the setup process if cer­tifi­cates do not match.

Jo­hannes Ull­rich, direc­tor of the In­ter­net Storm Cen­ter at the SANS In­sti­tute, said NightSkies might not even be a cur­rent project given that the doc­u­ment was last up­dated in 2008.

Other doc­u­ments re­leased de­scribe sim­i­lar exploits for Mac com­put­ers. One hides in the firmware of Ap­ple’s Thun­der­bolt-to-Eth­er­net adapter and re­quires some­one to plug in that adapter to in­stall the mal­ware. An­other tar­gets a spe­cific Mac model, the MacBook Air with the Leop­ard ver­sion of the Mac OS sys­tem — cur­rent at the time, but now seven gen­er­a­tions old.

Ull­rich said the Mac exploits all ap­pear old. He added that some of the Thun­der­bolt is­sues have been fixed to make the hack more dif­fi­cult to pull off.


Cus­tomers try out iPhone 6 de­vices last June at an Ap­ple Store in Bei­jing. A new doc­u­ment dump from Wik­iLeaks points to a CIA pro­gram to hack iPhones and Mac com­put­ers with tech­niques that users couldn’t dis­able thor­ough a de­vice re­set.

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