Researchers Claim Apple Can Potentially Access Encrypted iMessages [Updated]

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Following the revelation of government data gathering program PRISM in June, Apple released a statement on customer privacy that suggested the company was unable to access or decrypt iMessage and FaceTime conversations.

According to researchers who presented at the Hack the Box conference in Kuala Lumpur (via Macworld), it is actually possible for someone inside Apple to intercept messages because the company has access to public iMessage keys.

The company's claim that iMessage is protected by unbreakable encryption is "just basically lies," said Cyril Cattiaux, who has developed iOS jailbreak software and works for Quarkslab, a penetration testing and reverse engineering company in Paris.

The researchers emphasized they have no indication that Apple or the government is reading iMessages, only that it would be possible to do so.
To encrypt iMessages, Apple utilizes public key cryptography, which means that every Apple device is assigned both a private key and a public key. When an iMessage is sent, it requests the public key of the recipient's device to encrypt the message, which is then decrypted by a private key upon receipt.

Because Apple manages public keys and does not divulge them to users, it is not possible to verify that a sent iMessage is going to the intended recipient. Apple could, for example, substitute or add a public key to intercept an outgoing message without the sender being aware of the change, as end users do not have access to public keys.
With a public server, such as MIT's PGP Public Key Server, the sender can at least see more information, such as whether a key has changed. At that point, the sender can decide whether they want to trust it or not if they suspect a man in the middle attack. Apple's key server is not public, the researchers say.

"The biggest problem here is you just cannot control that the public key you are using when you are ciphering the message is really the key of your recipient and not, for example, the public key of some guy in Apple," Cattiaux said.
According to the researchers, there would be no way for an end user to detect an intercepted or rerouted message from their iOS device, as it is impossible to see whether or not a key has been switched or where a message has been routed. The solution to the issue, to introduce true end-to-end encryption, would require Apple to store public keys on each iOS device to allow users to compare keys to verify that messages are going to the intended recipient.

Earlier this year, a Drug Enforcement Agency document noted that it was impossible for law enforcement agencies to eavesdrop directly on iMessage conversations due to Apple's encryption, but it appears that Apple itself could potentially intercept those messages using public keys.

Update: Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said in a statement to AllThingsD that "iMessage is not architected to allow Apple to read messages," adding that "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."

Article Link: Researchers Claim Apple Can Potentially Access Encrypted iMessages [Updated]
 

Zwhaler

macrumors demi-god
Jun 10, 2006
6,855
1,140
I've learned these days that anything and everything that has to do with information or data can be accessed by the authorities, illegal or not. We live in a surveillance state (in America). Notice how Yahoo and other service providers are pushing user "profiles" like Facebook, so they can make profiles on all of us. Next up is obviously fingerprint scanning. The conspiracy theorists weren't crazy after all.
 

TheKrs1

macrumors 6502
Apr 11, 2010
348
84
Maybe I am missunderstanding, but would that mean then that the messages would not be received by the end user? If Apple could generate a different public key, other than one the intended recipient would be using, wouldn't that mean the recipient would get no message?

If so, I don't see this being a HUGE risk. Either it would be a 1-way conversation, or someone would have to be pretending to be your contact on the other side?
 

cloudyo

macrumors regular
Feb 25, 2012
126
142
Just use Threema. It uses true end to end encryption; You control the private and public key; their servers are located in switzerland. It's as easy to use as WhatsApp and cross platform. What more could you ask for?

http://threema.ch
 
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TheKrs1

macrumors 6502
Apr 11, 2010
348
84
I've learned these days that anything and everything that has to do with information or data can be accessed by the authorities, illegal or not. We live in a surveillance state (in America). Notice how Yahoo and other service providers are pushing user "profiles" like Facebook, so they can make profiles on all of us. Next up is obviously fingerprint scanning. The conspiracy theorists weren't crazy after all.
Why is fingerprint scanning the obvious next step? What is this going to accomplish?
 

barbro

macrumors newbie
Dec 29, 2003
10
0
UK
This doesn't make any sense. Just because Apple manages the public keys it doesn't mean they can decrypt anything. For that you need to private keys and that's held locally on each phone. Not to say there isn't other ways round it (like backdoors in the iMessage client), but not the way this article puts it.
 

KdParker

macrumors 601
Oct 1, 2010
4,793
998
Everywhere
Of course Apple could read encrypted iMessages.

The only real question is if Apple will encrypt for some 'authorities' when they come calling.
 

autrefois

macrumors 65816
Oct 22, 2003
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Is anyone surprised? :eek:
Surprisingly enough, yes. I was taking Apple at their word about this, although I guess that was perhaps naive of me. I'm sure Apple must have been aware of this, even if they have never taken advantage of it to to intercept messages or pass them on to the government.

So when iMessage texts go missing from time to time, or are delayed for no apparent reason, could this be a possible reason for it? (No, I don't think every time there's a missing or late message that this is the reason, but is it a possibility that when a message is delayed, it could be because it is being intercepted?)
 

whooleytoo

macrumors 604
Aug 2, 2002
6,574
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Cork, Ireland.
This doesn't make any sense. Just because Apple manages the public keys it doesn't mean they can decrypt anything. For that you need to private keys and that's held locally on each phone. Not to say there isn't other ways round it (like backdoors in the iMessage client), but not the way this article puts it.
I THINK the point is Apple could use their own public key to encrypt it (rather than yours) and so would be able to decrypt it at will.
 

Zwhaler

macrumors demi-god
Jun 10, 2006
6,855
1,140
Why is fingerprint scanning the obvious next step? What is this going to accomplish?
It assists in logging more complete profiles on everyone. Having a name and a picture isn't nearly as valuable as having fingerprints on everyone. Ask your self this question, do the people in power want this information? Yes. I'm not acting like Apple's TouchID is part of some radical conspiracy theory. I'm just saying that the way things are going eventually we're going to hand (no pun intended) them this valuable data. That's why websites want everything from you, connect with facebook, add your phone number, where's your current city, what job do you have, how tall are you, when were you born. It has less to do with social networking based on common interests and more on logging a database of you and me that is stored for whatever purposes they can come up with in the future.
 

djtech42

macrumors 65816
Jun 23, 2012
1,429
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Mason, OH
So when iMessage texts go missing from time to time, or are delayed for no apparent reason, could this be a possible reason for it? (No, I don't think every time there's a missing or late message that this is the reason, but is it a possibility that when a message is delayed, it could be because it is being intercepted?)
Put the tin foil hat back down. :D
 

Hitch08

macrumors 6502
Oct 21, 2008
350
13
Researchers Claim Apple Can Potentially Access Encrypted iMessages

This just in: I can potentially access encrypted iMessages.

And in related news, the author of the post following this one can potentially access encrypted iMessages as well.

:rolleyes:
 

OldSchoolMacGuy

Suspended
Jul 10, 2008
4,197
9,049
This is news? We've only been subpoenaing SMS, iMessages, Skype, AIM, and every other message type out there for years. Not sure how some missed this other than sheer ignorance.
 

sw1tcher

macrumors 68000
Jan 6, 2004
1,764
2,370
So what it basically comes down to is, "Do you trust Apple with the keys?"
 

Mwongozi

macrumors member
Sep 17, 2007
54
43
Woodside, CA
I said this on Reddit but I'll say it again here:

If Apple wanted to, or intended to, read your iMessages, why wouldn't they design a protocol that specifically allows for this in the first place?

Finding flaws in a protocol which was obviously designed to be secure and then pointing the finger and saying "See? It's all on purpose" is just crazy.

But the masses will disregard the line right at the top of this article:
What we are not saying: Apple reads your iMessages.
I certainly trust iMessage way, way more than I trust, for example, Skype, or even plain old SMS.

A much bigger problem is that iCloud backups are not stored encrypted. If you backup your messages to iCloud, Apple has no need to go to the trouble of intercepting your messages in transit.
 
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whooleytoo

macrumors 604
Aug 2, 2002
6,574
657
Cork, Ireland.
Surprisingly enough, yes. I was taking Apple at their word about this, although I guess that was perhaps naive of me. I'm sure Apple must have been aware of this, even if they have never taken advantage of it to to intercept messages or pass them on to the authorities.

So when iMessages go missing from time to time, or are delayed for no apparent reason, could this be a possible reason for it? No, I don't think every time there's a missing or late message that this is the reason, but is it a possibility that when a message is delayed, it's because it is being intercepted?
At this stage, I doubt if there's any telephony/messaging that can operate without government eavesdropping. It wouldn't surprise me if there's some kind of gagging order in place too to prevent those companies revealing that there's eavesdropping in place, or maybe even that eavesdropping is possible.
 

thebeans

macrumors 6502
Feb 9, 2009
376
458
No

Surprisingly enough, yes. I was taking Apple at their word about this, although I guess that was perhaps naive of me. I'm sure Apple must have been aware of this, even if they have never taken advantage of it to to intercept messages or pass them on to the government.

So when iMessage texts go missing from time to time, or are delayed for no apparent reason, could this be a possible reason for it? (No, I don't think every time there's a missing or late message that this is the reason, but is it a possibility that when a message is delayed, it could be because it is being intercepted?)
No. No one is interested in intercepting your messages.:rolleyes:
 

TonyC28

macrumors 68000
Aug 15, 2009
1,826
5,395
USA
Well I guess I'll stop texting Stewie Griffin about our plans to take over the world.
 

Clubber

macrumors member
May 29, 2009
92
7
Why is fingerprint scanning the obvious next step? What is this going to accomplish?
I would guess, primarily to deter theft.

the company was unable to access or decrypt iMessage and FaceTime conversations
This is technically true. You have to have a private key to decrypt. If you were to suppliant a fake public key for a user to send messages with, they could be read, but the true recipient would not be able to decypher them, unless the private key to the fake public key was planted on the recipient's device. NSA would have to do this on a per target basis.

Even if the public keys were stored on the device, they still need to be requested by the person wanting to send you a message. That request can be easily spoofed by someone with privileges like the NSA.

For true security, you have to give the public key to the recipient in a guaranteed way, meaning you give them your key, you know they receive it and the person who receives it is the actual person.

For those that aren't clear on public key cryptography, if user A wants to send user B an encrypted message, user B must first give user A a public key to encrypt the message with. User A encrypts the message with a public key and sends it to user B. User B then drecrypts it with his private key that is paired with the public key he gave user A. If user B wants to send user A a message/reply, user B has to do the same thing with their public/private key set.

It's a crazy world we live in.
 
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foobarbaz

macrumors 6502a
Nov 29, 2007
555
683
Well, duh. Theoretically, all it takes is modifying iOS to make screenshots as you type...

What Apple says is that they *currently* cannot read iMessages.

But of course they can change the system to allow interception at any future date. But by that logic any system is completely insecure and any vendor a "liar", unless it is completely open-source (as well as the hardware and everything).

If you don't build your own computer and software from the atom up, you'll always have to live with a basic amount of trust. And unless somewhere in Cupertino there exists a switch to bypass encryption, nobody should claim they're "lying" if they say the can't read the messages.
 
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