Apple's Activation Lock Website Played Key Role in Hack, Perhaps Explaining its Removal

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Apr 12, 2001
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Apple recently removed the Activation Lock status checker from its website, giving no explanation as to why a seemingly useful tool was eliminated. The Activation Lock website was designed to make sure a used device being purchased wasn't locked with Activation Lock, rendering it unusable.

As it turns out, the Activation Lock website was a vital part of a bypass hack used to unlock devices bricked by Activation Lock, perhaps hinting at why Apple shelved it.

The process is demonstrated in the video below. By changing one or two characters of an invalid serial number, hackers are able to generate a valid serial number, using the Activation Lock tool for verification purposes to make sure it's functional. That valid number, which belongs to a legitimate device owner, can then be used to unlock a previously non-functional iPhone or iPad.

Activation Lock website verification starts at 5:25 in the video

The Activation Lock scheme that steals valid serial numbers from existing iOS users potentially explains a mysterious Apple ID bug that's been plaguing iPhone owners for months.

When attempting to activate a new or recently restored device, some iPhone owners have found their devices inexplicably locked to another Apple ID account - one with an unknown name and password. The problem has been affecting iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, 7, and 7 Plus models since September and can only be fixed by Apple.

Apple has not confirmed that the hack shown in the video is related to the Apple ID Activation Lock bug, but as the hack uses valid serial numbers from existing owners, it's a plausible theory. If the two are linked, it explains why the Activation Lock website was shut down so suddenly, and it should put an end to the Apple ID issue.

Introduced alongside iOS 7, Activation Lock has proven to be a successful theft deterrent. It effectively locks an iOS device to a user's Apple ID account and even when wiped, the device will continue to require an original Apple ID and password. Activation Lock is extremely difficult to bypass and has led to complicated hacks like the one in the video above to attempt to get around it.

It's not clear if Apple will provide a new Activation Lock website for customers who used it legitimately, but unless the company comes up with a method to prevent it from being misused, it seems unlikely.

Article Link: Apple's Activation Lock Website Played Key Role in Hack, Perhaps Explaining its Removal
 

TheShadowKnows!

macrumors 6502a
Sep 30, 2014
857
1,719
National Capital Region
That makes sense, I figured there had to be a simple reason.
As someone already mentioned, correctly, on the earlier thread, the solution would be for Apple to digitally sign the serial id of each iPhone, and introduce such changes on the new iOS releases.

[And, yes, if you do not, or cannot, update to newer firmware, the validation tool may continue to produce false negatives.]
 

Jefe's MacAir

macrumors 6502a
Nov 21, 2010
516
334
Nobody saw this all along? I thought it was obvious what was happening. And I'd assume that very few phones were hacked, just serial numbers found and given to confirm for secondary sales.
 

mi7chy

macrumors 604
Oct 24, 2014
6,569
7,550
BS. That method to iCloud unlock is for the less than 1% since it requires expensive specialized equipment and skills to accomplish. The only reason iCloud lock exists is Apple greed to limit used equipment market.
 
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zaaach48

macrumors regular
Nov 2, 2016
139
114
Philadelphia
Funny how far people will go just to bypass activation lock - to the point of soldering and basically reverse engineering
It seems like a lot of work, but if you work for organized crime, you pay kids to do it for a few bucks on a large scale and make a lot of profit.

The black market for iDevices is insane. Working at Apple, we saw many resellers every day. Same guy would come in every day with 2 phones that don't turn on, are registered to someone on the other side of the country, and they don't care about the data on the device. Usually they tell some ridiculous story (in very broken english) about how it's their sister's phone and she can't be here, and it got hot and doesn't turn on, yada yada yada...They come in looking to get them swapped for new phones. Somewhere down the line I am convinced that organized crime is involved.

My theory:

Phones are stolen by petty thieves on the street and out of cars...The thieves sell the phones cheap to people involved in organized crime. The phones are activation locked of course, so they can't just be resold. So they tamper with them and either switch the serial number (shown in this video) or make them unable to power on (usually by damaging certain logic board components.) Bring them to Apple, get them swapped for good new phones, and then re-sell...or better yet, illegally smuggle them back into China without paying taxes and sell them for massive profit. basically iPhone laundering
 
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zaaach48

macrumors regular
Nov 2, 2016
139
114
Philadelphia
BS. That method to iCloud unlock is for the less than 1% since it requires expensive specialized equipment and skills to accomplish. The only reason iCloud lock exists is Apple greed to limit used equipment market.
you are ridiculous...Apple provides instructions on how to remove activation lock before selling your phone. Apple offers high trade-in value for used phones. Activation lock is to help deter theft.

and yea, the video was not meant to be something the average user can do. But the devices could pay for themselves if say, a wealthy criminal made the initial investment and could easily re-coup with the hundreds of stolen devices he launders
 

zaaach48

macrumors regular
Nov 2, 2016
139
114
Philadelphia
That now makes sense why myself and a lot others experienced our 6s devices being activation locked after we restored the phone even though many of us were the original owners. Scary stuff.
was it an email that was a long string of numbers, or perhaps ending in @qq.com?
 

oneMadRssn

macrumors 603
Sep 8, 2011
5,157
11,997
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Holly cow that video is awesome. iFixit should revise their repairability score for the iPad - clearly their score of 2/10 is way too low.

Seriously though. I'm not a fan of the black-market selling stolen iPads and iPhones, but I'd be lying if I said I was more angry than impressed.
 

jent

macrumors 6502a
Mar 31, 2010
725
174
Wouldn't a simple solution relatively simple for Apple to implement be to require that a user type in the serial number, the IMEI, and the CAPTCHA text? Each serial number only has one corresponding IMEI, so you couldn't just guess your way both through as the article explained people did with the serial number.
 

nburwell

macrumors 601
May 6, 2008
4,814
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was it an email that was a long string of numbers, or perhaps ending in @qq.com?
To be honest, I can't even recollect the email my 6s was "registered" to once I factory restored it. All I know is that is was a very odd email address. So it quite possibly could have ended in"@qq.com"
 

macTW

Suspended
Oct 17, 2016
1,395
1,976
This explains a lot. Not only the random locks on phones but the lack of frequency of them - serial numbers are hard to guess.
 
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