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Hackers probe iPhone for vulnerabilities

Apple's phone will be a top target

Technology fetishists aren't the only people itching to get their hands on an iPhone. Hackers want to play with Apple's new toy, too.

Within hours of Apple's iPhone unveiling this week, the iPhone was a hot topic on the Dailydave discussion list, a widely read forum on security research.

Much of the discussion centred on the processor that Apple may have chosen to power its new device and what kind of assembly language 'shellcode' might work on this chip. "Is this beast running an ARM?" wrote reverse-engineering expert Havlar Flake. "I have doubts about a mobile device being based on x86, so does anyone have details about what sort of shellcode needs to be written?"

One of the hackers behind the Month of Apple Bugs project, which is disclosing new Apple security vulnerabilities every day for the month of January, said he "would love to mess with" the iPhone.

"If it's really going to run OS X, [the iPhone] will bring certain security implications, such as potential misuses of wireless connectivity facilities, [and] deployment of malware in a larger scale," the hacker known as LMH told us. He declined to provide his real name.

Because the device could include a range of advanced computing features, such as Apple's Bonjour service discovery protocol, it could provide many avenues of attack, according to LMH. "The possibilities of a worm for smartphones are something to worry about," he wrote. "Imagine Bonjour, and all the mess of features that OS X has, concentrated in a highly portable device which relies on wireless connectivity."

"This is all speculation right now, until a technical specification is released by Apple on its features and technology," he added.

David Maynor is another security researcher interested in the iPhone. Maynor's videotaped demonstration of a MacBook being hacked over a wireless network received widespread attention at last year's Black Hat USA conference, although Maynor and his co-presenter were later criticised for the way they presented their research. They demonstrated these flaws using a third-party wireless card rather than the one that ships with the MacBook, and they still have not published the code they used.

"I can't wait to get one," said Maynor, who is chief technology officer with Errata Security LLC. "There's already a lot of discussion going on, and it's not coming out for another six months. People are salivating over it."

Because the iPhone will be new and relatively untested, but running a familiar operating system, Maynor believes that there will be plenty of places for hackers to look for bugs. "My feeling is that this is going to be one of the easier devices to find vulnerabilities in," he said.

But there is one other factor that will also help determine how often the iPhone is hacked: its popularity. If nobody buys the $499 device, then it will become less interesting to hackers.

On the other hand, if it becomes as popular as the iPod, it "will become the preferred target for writers of mobile malware," wrote Kaspersky Lab senior research engineer Roel Schouwenberg in a recent blog posting.

The fact that hackers looking for OS X bugs would possibly have two platforms to exploit - Apple's computers and the iPhone - would "mean an increase in the number of vulnerabilities identified in Apple's workstation OS," he wrote.

Apple seems to be aware of the problem. Although the company was unable to provide an executive who could comment on the security of its products during this week's Macworld conference, the company was quick to respond to Havlar Flake's question on the Dailydave discussion list.

"Do you really want to know the answer to this question?" wrote Apple's Simon Cooper. "If so, then you should apply, get offered and accept the software security position I currently have open at Apple. This is work in Core OS for Mac OS X."

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