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Security flaw in iPhone's Mail and Safari apps

Bugs leave users vulnerable to attacks

The 3G iPhone's email application and Safari web browser are vulnerable to attack from phishers and spammers, a researcher has warned.

Browser vulnerability researcher Aviv Raff identified and reported to Apple three different bugs in the iPhone 3G that will allow phishers to dupe users into visiting malicious sites and ensure spammers can flood the phone's inbox with junk mail.

Apple has acknowledged that the two vulnerabilities in Mail are security issues, Raff said, but the company is currently undecided on whether the Safari flaw meets its security bug criteria. At times, Apple has balked at labelling problems as security vulnerabilities, notably in May when it initially said the so-called 'carpet bomb' bug was not security-related. A month later, Apple did patch Safari to stymie the kind of attacks that Raff, and other researchers, had outlined.

"By creating a specially-crafted URL, and sending it via an email, an attacker can convince the user that the spoofed URL, showed in the mail application, is from a trusted domain, such as a bank, PayPal or social networks," Raff said in a post to his blog.

"When clicking on the URL, the Safari browser will be opened [and] the spoofed URL, showed in the address bar, will still be viewed by the victim as if it is of a trusted domain."

In lieu of any patches, Raff urged users to refrain from following links embedded in messages. If they wanted to avoid spam, he recommended that they stop using the iPhone's email application completely.

Raff was hesitant to talk about the technical details of any of the three bugs, saying that he would not disclose any specifics until Apple patches the problems. But when asked whether the spoofing flaws in Mail and Safari might be somehow related to protocol handler issues, a common source of bugs in browsers for more than a year now, Raff at first said, "No, nothing to do with protocol handling". However, moments later he added: "Hmmm. Let me rephrase it. Almost nothing to do with protocol handling."

The spam-related flaw in Mail is a "very basic design flaw", Raff said, that can make an email account more vulnerable to spam. "I can't say more about this, as it may reveal the actual issue."

That bug has surfaced before in other versions of Apple's Mail software it bundles a much brawnier edition with Mac OS X and has been patched in those versions, said Raff.

Both the older version 1.1.4 of the iPhone's software, and the recently-released version 2.0, harbour the three bugs. Raff said that exploiting any of the three bugs was "trivial" and has crafted proof-of-concepts to demonstrate possible attacks.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of Raff's reports.


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