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Frustrated dev drops three zero-day vulns affecting Apple iOS 15 after six-month wait

Upset with Apple’s handling of its Security Bounty program, a bug researcher has released proof-of-concept exploit code for three zero-day vulnerabilities in Apple’s newly released iOS 15 mobile operating system.

The bug hunter, posting on Thursday to Russia-based IT blog Habr under the name “IllusionOfChaos” and to Twitter under the same moniker, expressed frustration with Apple’s handling of vulnerability reports.

“I’ve reported four 0-day vulnerabilities this year between March 10 and May 4, as of now three of them are still present in the latest iOS version (15.0) and one was fixed in 14.7, but Apple decided to cover it up and not list it on the security content page,” the researcher wrote.

“When I confronted them, they apologized, assured me it happened due to a processing issue and promised to list it on the security content page of the next update. There were three releases since then and they broke their promise each time.”

The researcher added that the vulnerability dump conforms with responsible disclosure practices, noting that Apple was informed and has done nothing.

Apple on Thursday issued a patch for macOS Catalina to address a different zero-day, having gone through a similar exercise ten days earlier to address a zero-click iMessage bug used to target human rights activists and other flaws.

The three unpatched iOS flaws include:

  • Gamed 0-day, which provides access to sensitive data such as Apple ID email address, full name, the associated Apple ID authentication token, read access to a shared contacts database, the speed dial database, and the Address Book.
  • Nehelper Enumerate Installed Apps 0-day, which allows ​​any user-installed app to determine whether any other app is installed.
  • Nehelper Wifi Info 0-day, which allows an app with location access permission to use WiFi without the required entitlement.

The fixed flaw, Analyticsd, allowed a user-installed app to gain access to a shared set of analytics logs that contain medical data, device usage information, device accessory data, crash data, and language settings for viewed web pages.

“IllusionOfChaos” said the collection of this data shows the hypocrisy of Apple’s claims to care about privacy. “All this data was being collected and available to an attacker even if ‘Share analytics’ was turned off in settings,” the researcher said.

Kosta Eleftheriou, the developer behind the Apple Watch keyboard app FlickType (who earlier this year sued Apple for App Store market abuse), said via Twitter that he tested the Gamed 0-day on iOS 14.8 and iOS 15 and confirmed that it works as advertised.

“The bugs are neat, but unlikely to be widely exploited,” security researcher Patrick Wardle, founder of free security project Objective See and director of research at security biz Synack, told The Register. “Any app that attempted to (ab)use them would need to first be approved by Apple, via the iOS app Store.”

“To me, the bigger takeaway is that Apple is shipping iOS with known bugs,” Wardle said, noting that “IllusionOfChaos” claims to have reported the bugs months ago. “And that security researchers are so frustrated by the Apple Bug Bounty program they are literally giving up on it, turning down (potential) money, to post free bugs online.”

Wardle said he considered the researcher’s critique of Apple’s Security Bounty program to be fair.

“It’s not that Apple doesn’t have resources or money to fix this,” he said. “Clearly it’s just not a priority to them. “IMHO, the underlying reason is Apple’s hubris gets in the way. They (still) don’t see security researchers or white-hat hackers as being on the same side.”

“Apple’s internal security team gets it, but at the higher up, cultural level, they’ve all drunk the Apple juice, and believe their way is the right way, and they don’t need any external help.”

While some developers have found Apple’s Security Bounty program rewarding, others share the frustration expressed by “IllusionOfChaos.” In July, 2020, Jeff Johnson, who runs app biz Lapcat Software, went public with a privacy bypass vulnerability because Apple failed to fix the bug he had reported. At the time, he told The Register, “Talking to Apple Product Security is like talking to a brick wall.”

The Register asked Apple to comment, but the brick wall did not respond. ®