AirDrop exploit found as iOS 9 launches, fixed with update

17 Sep 2015

Those who have installed iOS 9 on their phones might be happy to know their impatience could pay off as a new AirDrop bug is now out there and could affect older versions of iOS.

The AirDrop bug was found by Australian security researchers at Azimuth Security, who found a flaw that would allow anyone within range of a user of AirDrop to install malware on the person’s phone.

Not only that, but when the person gains access to the victim’s phone they can tweak the settings of iOS to render its defences useless against further attacks.

The attack, known as a directory traversal attack, allows the attacker to bypass digital walls put in place by Apple by tricking it into accepting any enterprise security certificate, mostly used by businesses when trying to install software not hosted on the App Store.

According to Forbes, the researchers are advising that Apple device owners upgrade their software not only to iOS 9, but to the new Mac OS X El Capitan.

People running all versions of iOS 7 and iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite are affected by the bug.

Demonstrating on an iPhone, Azimuth Security’s Mark Dowd showed how by using the bug he was able to access Apple’s Springboard tool manager and then simply sent over the malware code into the third-party app directory.

Dowd has said however that iOS 9 and Mac OS X El Capitan users should be safe from the vulnerability due to Apple’s increased security measures included in the software update.

There has also been a sandbox added to the AirDrop platform that prevents people from exploiting other aspects of the phone through the local data-sharing service.

The ball is now in Apple’s court, however, given that the patch is still open and, worryingly, the exploit has been suggested by Dowd as having reach across other Apple programs, but they will not be revealed publically until they have been patched.

AirDrop image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic