Update: Apple rushes critical iPhone SMS patch

Fixes flaw one day after researchers show how to hijack smartphones with text messages

Just a day after researchers showed how hackers can hijack iPhones with a series of malicious text messages, Apple patched the problem.

The new iPhone 3.0.1 software, which Apple released today to iTunes around 2 p.m. Eastern, addresses a vulnerability disclosed Thursday by researchers Charlie Miller, an analyst with Independent Security Evaluators, and Collin Mulliner from the Technical University of Berlin, at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas.

The vulnerability, which Miller first discussed at a Singapore security conference earlier this month, lets hackers take control of an iPhone by using a series of SMS, or text, messages.

Miller and Mulliner demonstrated the flaw yesterday during a Black Hat presentation, showing how hackers could send apparently-harmless text messages, including messages that the iPhone's owner never sees, to silently operate smartphone features such as its camera or microphone.

Miller had reported the bug to Apple on June 16.

"Receiving a maliciously crafted SMS message may lead to an unexpected service interruption or arbitrary code execution," Apple acknowledged in the Friday security advisory that accompanied the patch.

Apple, which does not assign vulnerabilities a rating or ranking as do companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, instead uses the phrase "arbitrary code execution" to label its most serious flaws.

Earlier today, the BBC reported that Apple would patch the bug Saturday, quoting a representative for O2, Apple's exclusive carrier partner in the U.K.

Also today, Miller said he couldn't confirm that a patch was imminent. "They do it when they do it," he said, referring to Apple's patching process.

This is the first update to the iPhone software since Apple unveiled Version 3.0 on June 17.

Miller and Mulliner have published a research paper, "Fuzzing the Phone in Your Phone" (PDF document), that spells out the vulnerability in smartphones, including the iPhone.

Users can wait out the update interval -- iTunes automatically checks Apple's update servers once a week -- or retrieve iPhone 3.0.1 manually by selecting "Check for Update" under the iTunes Help menu and then docking the iPhone to a PC or Macintosh.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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