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Researchers Find Flaw in Apple Encryption

Researchers discovered an encryption vulnerability affecting multiple Apple products, including the company’s instant messaging application iMessage.

A research team from Johns Hopkins University, led by cryptography expert Matthew Green, reported finding a flaw in Apple’s encryption that can be exploited to access encrypted photos and videos sent via iMessage.

Researchers discovered an encryption vulnerability affecting multiple Apple products, including the company’s instant messaging application iMessage.

A research team from Johns Hopkins University, led by cryptography expert Matthew Green, reported finding a flaw in Apple’s encryption that can be exploited to access encrypted photos and videos sent via iMessage.

Green started suspecting that Apple’s encryption was flawed last year after reading a security guide describing the tech giant’s encryption process. He alerted Apple, but after seeing that the vulnerability still existed months later, he and some of his students developed a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the issue’s severity, Green told The Washington Post.

Ian Miers, one of the students involved in the research, noted on Twitter that the issue is not a bug in how Apple stores or encrypts attachments, and pointed out that it affects more than just iMessage. According to the student, Apple has prepared patches for other apps, but has not disclosed their names.

Apple told The Washington Post that it partially addressed the problem last year in iOS 9 and plans on including a complete patch in iOS 9.3, scheduled for release on Monday.

The researchers who discovered the encryption vulnerability will publish a detailed paper once Apple ships the patch.

Apple’s encryption has been in the spotlight over the past weeks after the United States government asked the company to create a “backdoor” to the iPhone so that it can access information stored on the phone of the man responsible for the December terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Apple, which is backed by technology giants Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, seems determined to fight the request, which it believes could set a dangerous precedent.

While the FBI insists that it only wants Apple to create a special piece of software that would allow it to access a single device, namely the one of the San Bernardino shooter, security experts and civil rights advocates are not convinced.

Apple and the US government are scheduled for a hearing before a federal judge in Southern California on Tuesday. A judge in New York sided with Apple in a similar case late last month.

According to media reports, some Apple employees are prepared to leave the company if they are asked to undermine the security of their software.

Green pointed out that the encryption flaw he discovered would likely not be useful for accessing the data on the San Bernardino shooter’s phone.

Related: UN Warns of ‘Pandora’s Box’ in FBI Apple Case

Related: In Apple vs FBI Case, Compromise Appears Elusive

Written By

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.

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