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Monday, February 24, 2014, 11:07 pm PT (02:07 am ET)

Purported iOS 'flaw' lets nefarious apps secretly log keystrokes in background

In a blog post late Monday, network security firm FireEye claims to have discovered a new iOS "flaw" that allows a nefarious app to log touch events and button presses in the background, then send the data off to a remote server.

FireEye

FireEye's background monitoring proof-of-concept. | Source: FireEye


First spotted by ArsTechnica, the post describes a proof-of-concept that FireEye researchers say can collect and transmit potentially sensitive information while running in the background.

From what can be gleaned from FireEye's blog, the supposed "flaw" takes advantage of iOS' built-in multitasking components, suggesting the attacking app must first be vetted and installed on an affected device to access legitimate APIs. Barring the side-loading of an app with private APIs, such as those certified for internal distribution through Apple's remote management solution, the app would have to successfully sneak by the App Store review process in order to work.

To this end, FireEye claims to have developed "approaches to bypass" Apple's app review process, but does not detail the workarounds.

Note that the demo exploits the latest 7.0.4 version of iOS system on a non-jailbroken iPhone 5s device successfully. We have verified that the same vulnerability also exists in iOS versions 7.0.5, 7.0.6 and 6.1.x. Based on the findings, potential attackers can either use phishing to mislead the victim to install a malicious/vulnerable app or exploit another remote vulnerability of some app, and then conduct background monitoring.

The monitoring app can reportedly record all input events in the background, including on-screen touches and physical button actuation like the home button, Touch ID and volume controls.

Further, FireEye notes that disabling iOS 7's background app refresh feature will not block said monitoring app from collecting and disseminating data. The firm offers the example of music apps that were granted access to background processes in earlier versions of iOS.

According to ArsTechnica, a now-removed blog post from FireEye claimed the firm had "successfully delivered a proof-of-concept monitoring app through the App Store that records user activity and sends it to a remote server. We have been collaborating with Apple on this issue."

FireEye's discovery, if it can be deemed as much, comes as Apple is being scrutinized over an SSL security flaw found recently in both iOS and OS X. The so-called "goto fail" error potentially opens the door for hackers to surreptitiously intercept data meant to be encrypted.

Apple issued a patch for iOS last week and is working on a fix for OS X that should see release soon.