Security Experts:

Apple Extends HTTPS Deadline for iOS Apps

Apple informed iOS developers this week that it has decided to give them more time to ensure that their applications communicate over a secure HTTPS connection.

In June, at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple announced that all the iOS applications in the App Store would have to use App Transport Security (ATS) by the end of the year.

ATS, enabled by default with the release of iOS 9.0 and OS X 10.11, is designed to protect connections between an app and its servers by enforcing the use of HTTPS.

Apple appears to have realized that many developers will not make the January 1 deadline so it has decided to extend it indefinitely. After the company’s announcement in June, many developers raised concerns that their apps would not work with ATS due to hardware and infrastructure issues.

Some believed they would still be able to publish their applications on the App Store even without HTTPS if they could provide a reasonable justification during the app review process.

A study conducted recently by enterprise mobile threat protection firm Appthority showed that only 3 percent of the top 200 iOS apps used in enterprises worldwide implemented ATS without any changes or exceptions that weakened it.

“Since our report on ATS compliance three weeks ago, we have seen only a 2% increase - from 3% to 5% - in iOS apps that fully meet the tougher security standards,” Robbie Forkish, VP of engineering at Appthority, told SecurityWeek. “Thus, it’s no surprise to us that developers were not ready to meet the Jan 1 deadline initially set by Apple. Unfortunately, Apple has chosen to extend the deadline to comply with its ATS security mandate indefinitely, leaving enterprise data at risk while giving developers more time to comply. We hope this delay is a short-term setback.”

In a blog post published on Thursday, Forkish provided a series of recommendations to help enterprises monitor and potentially remediate apps without ATS.

“In light of this new development, we recommend that enterprises track the state of apps’ ATS compliance and consider alternatives to apps that access sensitive corporate data and don’t secure their network connections using ATS,” Forkish said. “We further recommend that enterprises select apps that employ certificate pinning, so as to proactively avoid man-in-the-middle (MiTM) attacks.”

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Related: 95% of HTTPS Servers Vulnerable to Trivial Connection Hijacking

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.