Researchers spot new way
to steal data from your mobile phone

April 9 2016 3:15 PM

Companies Apple may refuse to build an official software backdoor to mobile devices like the iPhone, but that may not necessarily mean your data can’t be extracted.

Researchers from Israel and Australia designed an attack to steal the cryptographic keys for sensitive services from Android and iOS devices, The Hacker News reported.

The attack devised by researchers from Tel Aviv University, Technion and The University of Adelaide can potentially target Bitcoin wallets, Apple Pay accounts, and other highly sensitive services.

In their “side-channel attack,” they placed a magnetic probe costing only $2 near an iPhone 4 performing cryptographic operations.

By measuring the electromagnetic emanations from the phone, they extracted the secret keys in authenticating the user’s data.

A similar hack can be performed using an improvised USB adapter and a USB sound card, it added.

Such an attack can extract signing keys from OpenSSL and CoreBitcoin on iOS, and partial key leakage from OpenSSL running on Android and from iOS’ CommonCrypto.

THN said the attack can affect devices running older iOS versions from 7.1.2 through 8.3, though iOS 9 and up are likely unaffected.

“However, nothing can save iPhone and iPad users even running current iOS versions if they are using vulnerable apps. One such vulnerable iOS app is CoreBitcoin that is used to protect Bitcoin wallets on iPhones and iPads,” it said.

Also, THN said OpenSSL versions 1.0.x and 1.1.x are vulnerable “except when compiled for x86-64 processors with the non-default option enabled or when running a special option available for ARM CPUs.”

Security vendor Sophos also noted such an attack is “absurdly difficult” to pull off, “unless you regularly hang out in coffee shops where bringing your own lab equipment is de rigueur.”

“Attacker also need measurements from several thousand different digital signatures using the same key in order to have a chance of figuring it out – and that’s an awful lot of activity on Apple Pay or in the Google Play Store,” it added.

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