Skip the navigation

The Pangu jailbreak for iOS could turn into a sinister attack

The Pangu jailbreak has rankled a security researcher, who claims his work was improperly used

By Jeremy Kirk
June 25, 2014 09:36 PM ET

IDG News Service - A new jailbreak for Apple's iOS software that uses confidential information intended only for security researchers could develop into a more sinister attack, according to security analysts.

The "Pangu" jailbreak, believed to be developed in China, was publicized earlier this week on a website. Applying the software allows Apple mobile devices running iOS 7.1 or higher to run unauthorized applications, which Apple discourages.

The jailbreak is notable for two reasons. First, it uses a special code-signing certificate issued by Apple that allows enterprises to install applications on their users' devices that do not come from the company's App Store.

Secondly, it also uses one or more mostly secret vulnerabilities discovered by well-known iOS researcher Stefan Esser to actually jailbreak the device, a fact that Esser isn't happy about.

"They are just thieves," Esser wrote on Twitter.

Esser runs training sessions on how to exploit iOS, but the information he shares with other researchers is meant to be kept secret. Pangu's developers thanked "A i0n1c" on their web page, which is Esser's Twitter handle.

How Pangu's developers obtained the code-signing certificate that allows its jailbreak application to be installed on a device is a mystery, said Michael Shaulov, CEO of Lacoon Security, a mobile security company, in a phone interview Wednesday.

Apple has two kinds of code-signing certificates that allow companies and developers to distribute applications that aren't in Apple's App Store, Shaulov said. A developer certificate has limits on how many copies of applications can be distributed, while an enterprise certificate allows unlimited distribution of an application.

Both certificates are only issued to vetted parties given their potential for abuse. Apple thoroughly reviews applications in the App Store to make sure APIs that open up access to functions like a phone's microphone or camera aren't available. But those with special certificates can allow their applications to do anything.

Pangu uses an enterprise certificate with the name "Hefei Bo Fang Communication Technology Co. Ltd.," according to a blog post written by Ohad Bobrov, CTO of Lacoon Security. Cursory Google searches did not immediately turn up information on the company.

Hackers often try to steal code-signing certificates from legitimate companies so their applications pass muster, Shaulov said. It wasn't immediately clear if Apple was duped into issuing an enterprise certificate or if it was stolen.

It would be possible to use the certificate to create a malicious software program. But in Pangu's case, it appears -- at least preliminarily -- it is just being used a means to jailbreak iOS.

"You can envision someone actually using this same certificate or a different one to write something which is way more malicious," Shaulov said.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
Our Commenting Policies