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Security researchers discover ‘severe’ flaw in iOS 10’s iTunes backups, Apple promises to release fix soon

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Apple has just recently debuted its greatest software release, the iOS 10, but researchers have already discovered a major security flaw in its iTunes backup protection mechanism. And while the Cupertino giant boasts about the security of its devices, this loophole leaves the backup data on the operating system vulnerable to password-cracking tools, reports iOS forensics company Elcomsoft.

This is a severe security weakness which has apparently been introduced due to a new password verification method added to iOS 10 via iTunes backups. The discovery was made when a team of researchers were working on an update for its own Elcomsoft phone breaker application for iOS 10. This new verification method has been introduced in parallel to the older mechanisms, which operate at lower speeds.

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They found out that the new password verification mechanism makes it easier to crack iOS 10 devices as it skips certain security checks allowing the hackers to attempt passwords logins much faster(about 2,500 times faster as compared to older mechanisms! woah!). The password-protected local backups on iOS 10 are the only ones that are affected by the new verification bypass method.

And if you’re extremely worried about your privacy and backups on iCloud, then you’d be relieved to know that the issue applies to only local iTunes backups created on a Mac or PC. The backups made to the iCloud are, thus, secure from this intrusion method.

Elcomsoft is a company known for breaking into iPhones and you’d be surprised to know that it didn’t disclose the vulnerability to Apple before publishing the same on its blog. Due to the implementation of a weaker hashing algorithm, this password verification method now allows the company’s software to guess and check over 6 million password combinations per second.

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This hack, which can prove to be a boon for hackers and government authorities, also allows them to use ‘brute force’ the backup file’s password by using the aforementioned piece of software developed by Elcomsoft. And once an attacker unlocks the backup, they can gain direct access to person’s device data in its saved state, including the keychain file that normally stores all the user’s login and password credentials.

Apple is, however, now aware of the problem and has contacted the company to know more about the security loophole. A company spokesperson has also confirmed that Apple is currently working on a fix, saying:

We’re aware of an issue that affects the encryption strength for backups of devices on iOS 10 when backing up to iTunes on the Mac or PC. We are addressing this issue in an upcoming security update. This does not affect iCloud backups.

We recommend users ensure their Mac or PC are protected with strong passwords and can only be accessed by authorized users. Additional security is also available with FileVault whole disk encryption.

The tech giant is currently beta testing iOS 10.1 and has released the 10.0.2 update which brings with fixes for headphone, Photos and app extensions. Though it has acknowledged the security flaw, it hasn’t provided any timeline for when it plans to fix the issue via a security update.

A hands-on guy fascinated by new apps, technologies and enterprise products.

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