Saturday, October 19, 2013

Apple's claims of iMessage encryption depend upon your trust: Researchers

Researchers presenting a paper at the Hack in the Box convention in Kuala Lumpur have disputed Apple's claim that its iMessage service is secure and that even Apple cannot decrypt messages sent over it. Although it was careful to say that there is no evidence to indicate that Apple is doing so, on Thursday, security firm QuarksLab argued that Apple could intercept iMessage communications "if it wanted to."

QuarksLab's presentation is quite clear. It begins with this statement:
What we are not saying: Apple reads your iMessages. What we are saying: Apple can read your iMessages if they choose to, or if they are required to do so by a government order.
The crux of the problem lies in the fact that Apple uses public key encryption as part of iMessage, and it stores the keys on its own servers. As QuarksLab pointed out, with that, Apple could -- if it wanted to -- execute a man-in-the-middle attack, either at its behest or the behest of some government agency, such as the NSA, and snag as much iMessage data as it wanted.

Cryptography expert Moxie Marlinspike, who was not involved in the research, commented separately on the findings. In fact, he said, another said another attack scenario is possible, one that would be even simpler for Apple to enact. It's possible to link More than one iDevice can be linked to a single iMessage account, and to do so, a device that is sending a message So a may grab several public keys in order to sync message across the user’s iDevices.

Marlinspike said:
This makes interception on Apple’s behalf even easier, since they don’t technically need to perform a strict "man in the middle" attack. They can just add their own key to the list, and the sender will encrypt a copy directly to Apple in addition to the copy that gets sent normally.
Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller indicated the research is all theoretcial, and that it has no basis in reality. She said, in a statement to AllThingsD:
iMessage is not architected to allow Apple to read messages. The research discussed theoretical vulnerabilities that would require Apple to re-engineer the iMessage system to exploit it, and Apple has no plans or intentions to do so.
How much of what Apple claims you believe depends on how much you trust Apple, because -- in truth -- -what QuarksLab theorizes is possible. And in this day of the NSA grabbing as much data as it can, do you trust Apple any further than you can throw its HQ?

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