Apple encryption mistake puts many desktop applications at risk

Apple's Mail, FaceTime, Calendar, Safari browser and Software Update could be vulnerable, a researcher said

Security researcher Ashkan Soltani said several other desktop applications, include Apple's Mail, FaceTime and Calendar, use a code library that could allow an attacker to steal data.

Security researcher Ashkan Soltani said several other desktop applications, include Apple's Mail, FaceTime and Calendar, use a code library that could allow an attacker to steal data.

A subtle mistake in how Apple implemented a basic encryption feature that shields data from snooping also affects many desktop applications that rely on the code, according to a noted security researcher.

Apple released a patch on Friday for its iOS mobile platform but has yet to fix the problem for desktop computers, which often have several applications that rely on the faulty code library, called Secure Transport.

Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher, said many other Apple and non-Apple applications are affected.

Those include Apple's Mail, FaceTime, Calendar, Keynote, the Safari browser, iBooks and its Software Update applications. It would also appear to affect third-party applications, such as the desktop Twitter application and possibly VPN (virtual private network) connections, depending on their configurations, Soltani said.

The Secure Transport library, which handles setting up an encrypted connection for many applications, was contained in iOS 6 and up and OSX versions 10.9 and up, Soltani said via email.

Most websites handling sensitive personal data use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security), which establishes an encrypted connection between a server and a person's computer. If an attacker intercepts the data, it is unreadable.

Apple's mistake in Secure Transport allows an attacker to perform a man-in-middle attack, and supply fake data that makes it appear an authentic web service has been cryptographically verified.

"This enables an adversary to masquerade as coming from a trusted remote endpoint, such as your favorite webmail provider and perform full interception of encrypted traffic between you and the destination server," wrote Alex Radocea, senior engineer with the computer security firm CrowdStrike, on Friday. CrowdStrike analyzed Apple's patch for iOS after it was released.

The flaw is deeply buried in a line of code, wrote Adam Langley, a software engineer at Google, on his personal blog.

"This sort of subtle bug deep in the code is a nightmare," Langley. "I believe that it's just a mistake and I feel very bad for whomever might have slipped in an editor and created it.

Until Apple fixes it, any data transmitted by those applications is at risk, although the danger is mitigated somewhat since an attacker must be on the same network as the victim.

Third-party application developers could tweak their code to use other SSL/TLS libraries, such as OpenSSL, but Apple is likely to fix the issue quickly.

"I suspect Apple should be pushing out a patch any day now," Soltani said.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags AppleCrowdStrikesecuritydata breachencryptiondata protection

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?