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iOS Hackers Win a Million-Dollar Bug Bounty

iOS Hackers Win a Million-Dollar Bug Bounty

by Samburaj DasNovember 3, 2015

Security firm Zerodium has announced that an anonymous hacker group will claim the million-dollar reward for successfully developing a remote hacking technique to compromise the latest variants of Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6S.

Apple’s iOS & MacOS software are generally considered hard nuts to crack by hackers. Tim Cook’s stance on end-user encryption on personal devices such as the wildly successful iPhone even has the Feds publicly taking on Apple, finding novel new means to corner Apple into proving a backdoor for its software. Edward Snowden has previously revealed that the CIA is looking into ways to infiltrate Apple’s security.

With this in mind, a zero-day peddler called Zerodium, a security firm that sells information about vulnerabilities to clients interested in offhand surveillance techniques, recently announced a bug bounty program to the tune of a million dollars. A million dollars, to anyone who demonstrates a successful, remote hack of an iPhone to trick the device into visiting an external website.

In a tweet, Zerodium said:

A Million Dollars to Hack iOS 9

The task, as explained in the post by the zero-day security company involved the means to remotely hack iOS 9.1 and 9.2b (the latest versions of Apple’s mobile operating system) and install an application onto the device while gaining full system privileges.

iPhone touch IDFurthermore, the rules of the bounty program dictated that the hack “should be achieved remotely, silently and without requiring any user interaction except visiting a web page or reading an SMS/MMS.”

The challenge also demanded that the means to an exploit has to occur through an SMS or a browser. Two browsers, specifically, Apple’s Safari or Google’s Chrome, predictably the two most popular browsers on the mobile platform.

Speaking to Wired, Zerodium founder Chaouki Bekrar revealed that two teams fought it out to devise an attack worthy of the company’s bounty.

“Two teams have been actively working on the challenge, but only one has made a full and remote jailbreak. The other team made a partial jailbreak, and they may qualify for a partial bounty.”

If his claims are indeed true, the newest jailbreak will be the first-known successful hack to exploit an iPhone since the days when iOS 7 was the phone’s operating system.

Bekrar doesn’t intend to report the vulnerability to Apple anytime soon, as his customers will get to see the details of the exploit first.  Describing his clientele as “major corporations in defense, technology, and finance,” Bekrar also revealed that government institutions were also among the client list, those “in need of specific and tailored cybersecurity capabilities.”

He adds that he may “later” tell engineers at Apple about the vulnerability.

Although the figure for the bug bounty is nevertheless substantial, those looking to gain insight and knowledge into iOS’ vulnerabilities will find the exploit to be a lot more valuable, whoever the customers are and whatever their requirements may be.

Bekrar adds that the iOS exploit is “likely” to be sold to US customers. In a time where encryption in personal devices and cyberspace is a much-debated topic on a global scale, someone has just sold an unknown technique to hack an everyday device to a company that sells zero-day vulnerabilities to governments and corporations looking to get around encryption.

For a million dollars, someone has sold the means to hack an everyday device that is the highest selling smartphone in the world.

Images from Shutterstock.

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  • fabrica64

    Are we sure that’s true? Or is it just a way to get visibility? No winner name, no technical explanation… really seems only FUD. Time will tell