Apple details iOS diagnostics capabilities in answer to 'backdoor' services allegations

Posted:
in iPhone edited July 2014
In what appears to be a response to allegations of installing "backdoor" services with the intent to harvest data from iOS devices, Apple on Tuesday posted to its website an explanation of three diagnostics capabilities built in to the mobile OS.



As listed in the support document, Apple goes over three iOS services, explaining how they work and why they exist, possibly in an attempt to address accusations that it installs backdoor services in cahoots with government agencies looking to surveil device owners.

The services detailed were mentioned by forensic scientist and iOS hacker Jonathan Zdziarski in a recent talk at the HOPE/X conference in New York. Zdziarski highlighted certain suspicious iOS background assets that appeared to serve no diagnostics purposes, but could potentially be exploited by law enforcement agencies or malicious hackers to steal sensitive personal data from iOS devices.

In the support document, Apple addresses three of these services -- coincidentally listed in the same order as presented by Zdziarski in his slide deck -- explaining how each works and its intended use as a diagnostics tool for developers or IT professionals.

From Apple's support document:
  1. com.apple.mobile.pcapd

    pcapd supports diagnostic packet capture from an iOS device to a trusted computer. This is useful for troubleshooting and diagnosing issues with apps on the device as well as enterprise VPN connections. You can find more information at developer.apple.com/library/ios/qa/qa1176.

  2. com.apple.mobile.file_relay

    file_relay supports limited copying of diagnostic data from a device. This service is separate from user-generated backups, does not have access to all data on the device, and respects iOS Data Protection. Apple engineering uses file_relay on internal devices to qualify customer configurations. AppleCare, with user consent, can also use this tool to gather relevant diagnostic data from users' devices.

  3. com.apple.mobile.house_arrest

    house_arrest is used by iTunes to transfer documents to and from an iOS device for apps that support this functionality. This is also used by Xcode to assist in the transfer of test data to a device while an app is in development.
In addition, Apple points readers in the direction of documents explaining data syncing and the "Trust this computer" iOS feature that protects against data extraction from an unknown Mac or PC.

While the document answers for three services questioned by Zdziarski, the hacker brought up many more, including those with the potential to seemingly bypass iOS backup encryption to serve up data from a user's address book, capture pictures from social media feeds, install spyware using available enterprise tools and more.

For its part, Apple responded to the allegations in a statement issued on Monday, saying diagnostic functions in iOS are designed to thwart any compromise of user privacy and security.

"As we have said before, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products of services," Apple said.

The company added that users must first unlock their device and agree to trust a connected computer before transferring over diagnostics data, a point reiterated in today's support document.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 44
    First it's denied. Then when it's realized that it has been put there on purpose it's a diagnostics tool? I guess I'll have to see what type of diagnostics this handles first. It's not currently being utilized. As noted by others, it's not an exploit. It's an open door intentionally programmed for something. Strangely it has access to all of your personal data. We'll just have to wait and see what that something is.

    Edit: added (Strangely it has access to all of your personal data) above.
  • Reply 2 of 44
    rayzrayz Posts: 814member
    First it's denied. Then when it's realized that it has been put there on purpose it's a diagnostics tool? I guess I'll have to see what type of diagnostics this handles first. It's not currently being utilized. As noted by others, it's not an exploit. It's an open door intentionally programmed for something. We'll just have to wait and see what that something is.

    Apple didn't deny that the services exist; they denied that they were created to help law enforcement agencies crack iDevices.

    Good to see that Apple isn't letting the hit-whoring websites dictate the narrative completely. It's good practice for Apple's PR department which has been asleep at the wheel for years.
  • Reply 3 of 44
    rayz wrote: »
    Apple didn't deny that the services exist; they denied that they were created to help law enforcement agencies crack iDevices.

    Good to see that Apple isn't letting the hit-whoring websites dictate the narrative completely. It's good practice for Apple's PR department which has been asleep at the wheel for years.

    I'm glad to see their response also, although nothing in their press release or the subsequent links contained therein actually addressed why the deliberate holes were made.

    I'm hoping it's for a future product, but I'm optimistic! :)

    The problem is, if you JailBreak, that's instant access to every bit of personal data you have. That is of course if someone jailbreaks it. Those holes don't make it easier to JailBreak, but they do, all of your info is available. (Everything gets Jailbroken, it's just a matter of time).
  • Reply 4 of 44
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,072member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Silver Shadow View Post



    The problem is, if you JailBreak, that's instant access to every bit of personal data you have. That is of course if someone jailbreaks it. Those holes don't make it easier to JailBreak, but they do, all of your info is available. (Everything gets Jailbroken, it's just a matter of time).

     

    That is not entirely true. Several apps implement their own data encryption, which is not tied to the default root credentials. This data would still be encrypted after a jailbreak. Truly critical data (and I admit that this is a very subjective definition) does not belong into apps without such security features. Of course, most people will use the stock apps which do not have this additional protection for most stuff.

     

    Nevertheless, I would argue that there is no need to blow this out of proportion. If somebody has physical access to a device and all the time in the world, most private, and even most business devices (laptops etc.) are even easier to read out (remove the drive and read it on another computer). Absolutely nobody makes a fuss about it. And if a government agency has the device and the authority to access it, they will, encryption or not.

  • Reply 5 of 44
    dreyfus2 wrote: »
    That is not entirely true. Several apps implement their own data encryption, which is not tied to the default root credentials. This data would still be encrypted after a jailbreak. Truly critical data (and I admit that this is a very subjective definition) does not belong into apps without such security features. Of course, most people will use the stock apps which do not have this additional protection for most stuff.

    Nevertheless, I would argue that there is no need to blow this out of proportion. If somebody has physical access to a device and all the time in the world, most private, and even most business devices (laptops etc.) are even easier to read out (remove the drive and read it on another computer). Absolutely nobody makes a fuss about it. And if a government agency has the device and the authority to access it, they will, encryption or not.

    Aren't you the person/persons that believes a .99 app could replace a $15k thermal imaging camera?

    Research what your posting about, because anyone with any real world experience can tell the difference. (Even opposed to researched material).

    With the two new built in holes, you do not need physical access. It allows access to all of your personal data. It could be because of the beta. No one knows why those holes are there right now. To me it looks like a tie in with a future product. Others have a different view. NO ONE KNOWS FOR SURE yet. If they're still there when it comes out of beta then it will certainly get a lot of attention. I'll help to make sure of it.
  • Reply 6 of 44
    Aren't you the person/persons that believes a .99 app could replace a $15k thermal imaging camera?

    Research what your posting about, because anyone with any real world experience can tell the difference. (Even opposed to researched material).

    With the two new built in holes, you do not need physical access. It allows access to all of your personal data. It could be because of the beta. No one knows why those holes are there right now. To me it looks like a tie in with a future product. Others have a different view. NO ONE KNOWS FOR SURE yet. If they're still there when it comes out of beta then it will certainly get a lot of attention. I'll help to make sure of it.

    Edit:
    I'm very sorry. You are not the poster I was thinking of. I really am sorry...
  • Reply 7 of 44
    michael_cmichael_c Posts: 164member
    First it's denied. Then when it's realized that it has been put there on purpose it's a diagnostics tool? I guess I'll have to see what type of diagnostics this handles first. It's not currently being utilized. As noted by others, it's not an exploit. It's an open door intentionally programmed for something. Strangely it has access to all of your personal data. We'll just have to wait and see what that something is.

    Edit: added (Strangely it has access to all of your personal data) above.
    There's a fine line between silly and ignorance...
  • Reply 8 of 44
    michael_c wrote: »
    There's a fine line between silly and ignorance...

    Are you implying either of the two exist in my post?
  • Reply 9 of 44
    tenlytenly Posts: 710member
    [quote]"As we have said before, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products of services," Apple said.[/quote]

    I would feel a little more comfortable if they had not used limiting words in their response such as "government agency" or "backdoor".

    By limiting their response to "government" agencies, it doesn't tell us what they may or may not have done for a civilian agency. And by using the word "agency", does that automatically cover "departments", "organizations", "units", "groups" and "corporations"?

    A slightly more reassuring response would have been:

    "As we have said before, Apple has never worked with any [B]person or persons[/B] to [B]bypass security or privacy[/B]," Apple said.
  • Reply 10 of 44
    65c81665c816 Posts: 133member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Silver Shadow View Post



    First it's denied. Then when it's realized that it has been put there on purpose it's a diagnostics tool? I guess I'll have to see what type of diagnostics this handles first. It's not currently being utilized. As noted by others, it's not an exploit. It's an open door intentionally programmed for something. Strangely it has access to all of your personal data. We'll just have to wait and see what that something is.



    Edit: added (Strangely it has access to all of your personal data) above.

    It's not accessible if your device is locked.  Your device has to be unlocked, and trust the host computer.  Why did you unlock it and trusted the host computer?  Do you just trust any host computer for no reasons?

     

    If you didn't password protect it, err - why are you even worried about this, because you obviously don't care anyway.

  • Reply 11 of 44
    colinngcolinng Posts: 115member
    I don't believe that Apple would intentionally deceive us. However isn't there a US law that requires Apple hand over all their crypto keys or provide a comparable way to give away all the data and furthermore makes it a crime to even admit or hint that any such handover has been done? I don't think any US company is even legally allowed to speak of having been asked to hand over keys or data.

    Hence Apple is pushing for "greater transparency" in these processes.

    With that in mind, we can twist words so that one message is implied "your data is safe" but in reality a lie has been told.

    "Apple has never worked any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services..." could literally be interpreted as:
    1. They created the back doors of their own volition - letting the a govt use them is not a contradiction of the statement
    2. They did the "create a backdoor" part - the programming etc. - all by themselves - they don't need to "work with" anyone to accomplish that
    3. They worked with non-governmental agencies to do this
    Etc.
  • Reply 12 of 44
    misamisa Posts: 827member
    rayz wrote: »
    Apple didn't deny that the services exist; they denied that they were created to help law enforcement agencies crack iDevices.

    Good to see that Apple isn't letting the hit-whoring websites dictate the narrative completely. It's good practice for Apple's PR department which has been asleep at the wheel for years.

    Everything has diagnostic capabilities, just it seems these should not be running unless developer mode is turned on and the device screen is unlocked. So nothing new here. Theoretically someone could craft data to make a MITM attack against the the services and an actual trusted device, or pretend to be the trusted device, but this still is far more limited than the clickbait sites would have you believe.
  • Reply 13 of 44
    65c816 wrote: »
    It's not accessible if your device is locked.  Your device has to be unlocked, and trust the host computer.  Why did you unlock it and trusted the host computer?  Do you just trust any host computer for no reasons?

    If you didn't password protect it, err - why are you even worried about this, because you obviously don't care anyway.

    No. That's not the case this time. Sorry. It's not what I do for a living either, so take it with a grain of salt. However I'm more passionate about my hobbies than I am with my real job.

    Real, engineered "holes" for lack of a better term, exist. It's not a question left to debate at the moment, they are there. Physical or wireless access. It's not really a security concern yet though. They are not exploits. Though right now it looks like if you jailbreak IOS8, you may as well hand over your wallet.

    I do find it interesting that the PR department jumped on this when they're notoriously silent with every other problem or vulnerability.
  • Reply 14 of 44
    misa wrote: »
    Everything has diagnostic capabilities, just it seems these should not be running unless developer mode is turned on and the device screen is unlocked. So nothing new here. Theoretically someone could craft data to make a MITM attack against the the services and an actual trusted device, or pretend to be the trusted device, but this still is far more limited than the clickbait sites would have you believe.

    I agree everything should have diagnostic abilities. Access to all of your personal information (contacts, email, web history, SMS history, photos). I could be wrong, but I don't think that belongs in any type of diagnostic tool.

    It's very limited at the moment. Only because no one has taken advantage of it.
  • Reply 15 of 44
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,503member
    I agree everything should have diagnostic abilities. Access to all of your personal information (contacts, email, web history, SMS history, photos). I could be wrong, but I don't think that belongs in any type of diagnostic tool.

    It's very limited at the moment. Only because no one has taken advantage of it.

    A grown man, or woman, doesn't bother hiding behind some asinine name like Silver Shadow. Hell everyone here unwilling to actually put their real name out there really has no balls, in my estimation, and thus really knee caps their statements to being nothing more than a bunch of scared or self-serving children.
  • Reply 16 of 44
    I have seen the "Trust this Computer" alert in action. I have four iPhones (4, 4S, 5 and 5S) and an iPad connected to my iMac. It is always interesting to see the alerts since it is my computer the devices are connected to. I do not remember when I started noticing the alerst... Maybe iOS 6 or even 5 when I transitioned development to the iMac from the MacBook Pro.
  • Reply 17 of 44
    A grown man, or woman, doesn't bother hiding behind some asinine name like Silver Shadow. Hell everyone here unwilling to actually put their real name out there really has no balls, in my estimation, and thus really knee caps their statements to being nothing more than a bunch of scared or self-serving children.

    So your real name is Mdrift Meyer? Very curious. Your post is probably the most childish I've seen in quite some time. However, instead of attacking my screen name (which I believe it's called) perhaps you would like to enlighten me as to how... Oh, wait... You didn't object to anything. You just have an apparent illogical fear for my screen name.

    Carry on!
  • Reply 18 of 44
    gtrgtr Posts: 3,231member
    So your real name is Mdrift Meyer? Very curious. Your post is probably the most childish I've seen in quite some time. However, instead of attacking my screen name (which I believe it's called) perhaps you would like to enlighten me as to how... Oh, wait... You didn't object to anything. You just have an apparent illogical fear for my screen name.

    Carry on!

    Just for the record, mdriftmeyer used to actually work at Apple.

    So he doesn't have a real name, just a serial number.

    ;)
  • Reply 19 of 44
    monstrositymonstrosity Posts: 2,234member

    You can take off the tin foil hats now.

  • Reply 20 of 44
    fracfrac Posts: 480member
    I agree everything should have diagnostic abilities. Access to all of your personal information (contacts, email, web history, SMS history, photos). I could be wrong, but I don't think that belongs in any type of diagnostic tool.

    It's very limited at the moment. Only because no one has taken advantage of it.

    A grown man, or woman, doesn't bother hiding behind some asinine name like Silver Shadow. Hell everyone here unwilling to actually put their real name out there really has no balls, in my estimation, and thus really knee caps their statements to being nothing more than a bunch of scared or self-serving children.

    Not feasible. Heck, even my surname which is not common in the English speaking world, was taken when I first registered here - same everywhere else, cyber squatters got there before I got up. I object to being JoeSmith33781, or making it easy to be tracked...or following someone else's idea of correct behaviour backed up by asinine reasoning.
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