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Apple Offers Hackable iPhones to Security Researchers

Apple this week kicked off another initiative meant to improve the security of iPhones, by offering hackable phones to security researchers.

Apple this week kicked off another initiative meant to improve the security of iPhones, by offering hackable phones to security researchers.

Specifically designed for security researchers, these devices feature unique code execution and containment policies and are offered as part of the company’s Security Research Device (SRD) program, which was initially announced in December last year.

Security researchers looking to identify iOS vulnerabilities on SRD iPhones will enjoy shell access and the possibility to run the tools they want.

The caveat is that the iPhones were meant for use in a controlled setting, that they are the property of Apple, offered on a 12-month renewable basis to participating researchers, and that they “must remain on the premises of program participants at all times.”Apple offering hackable iPhone

The Cupertino-based tech giant says that these devices behave “as closely to a standard iPhone as possible,” but points out that they are not meant for daily, personal use, and that access to them will be limited to authorized people only.

Any discovered vulnerability should be reported to Apple or third-parties, depending on where it was discovered. Apple encourages researchers to report security bugs even if they were not discovered with the use of an SRD.

All vulnerabilities found on these iPhones are considered eligible for monetary rewards as part of the Apple Security Bounty program, which has been accessible to the public for a while.

The company asks reporting researchers to refrain from sharing information on the discovered vulnerabilities until Apple themselves disclose their details and/or release patches.

Interested researchers are invited to apply to the program but, due to the availability of a limited number of devices, not all qualified applicants will receive an SRD iPhone. Those who won’t receive a device will be automatically considered during the next application period, in 2021, Apple says.

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Researchers eligible for SRDs are those who are already part of the Apple Developer Program, have a track record of identifying vulnerabilities in operating systems, and are based in an eligible country or region. Apple employees or those who were employed by Apple in the last 12 months are not eligible.

Interested researchers can apply to the SRD program on Apple’s website.

While Apple claims to have launched the program to attract security researchers interested in identifying holes in its platform, some of the restrictions will keep proven bug hunters away from SRD.

Google’s Project Zero researchers won’t be able to participate, as they tend to publish vulnerability details 90 days after disclosure, regardless of whether a patch has been released or not. Cybersecurity firm ZecOps says it will not participate either, due to the imposed restrictions.

Related: Google Researchers Find Multiple Vulnerabilities in Apple’s ImageIO Framework

Related: Apple Awards Researcher $75,000 for Camera Hacking Vulnerabilities

Related: Apple Kicks Off Public Bug Bounty Program

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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