Apple Software: iOS Flaw Lets Hackers Access iPhones Using an iMessage

A flaw in the way Apple software handles images allows hackers to take over an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac or Apple TV with a simple iMessage or email.

The vulnerability in Apple’s picture-handling Image I/O API means that a malicious Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) file can force a so-called buffer overflow, which allows a hacker to break through Apple’s security and run their own code on a device.

Tyler Bohan from security firm Cisco Talos said: “This vulnerability is especially concerning as it can be triggered in any application that makes use of the Apple Image I/O API when rendering tiled TIFF images.”

Most apps on an iPhone, for instance, use the Image I/O API to render pictures, including Messages, MMS, Safari, Mail and others, leaving them all vulnerable to this attack.

“Depending on the delivery method chosen by an attacker, this vulnerability is potentially exploitable through methods that do not require explicit user interaction since many applications (ie iMessage) automatically attempt to render images when they are received in their default configurations,” said Bohan.

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Should the image be viewed automatically or manually, the attacker could then gain full control of the device, steal passwords and other information, all potentially without the user knowing.

Apple released iOS 9.3.3, OS X 10.11.6, tvOS 9.2.2 and watchOS 2.2.2 software updates to address the bug and several others on Monday, but those who have not updated either through the Settings app on their iOS device, iTunes or the Mac App Store are still vulnerable to attack.

The iOS 9.3.3 update is not available for the iPhone 4 and older models, which are still at risk. There are 1bn iOS devices around the globe, all of which will be affected by this security hole unless updated.

Google’s Android faced two similar security holes known as Stagefright and Stagefright 2, which affected almost a billion devices, but the updates required to fix the hole were slow in their release from various smartphone manufacturers and mobile phone networks.

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