Apple iPad, Like iPhone, A Prime Target For Jailbreaking Hacks

While Apple's iPad tablet has been hailed as a "game-changer," security experts contend that the device is ripe for the same jailbreaking exploits carried out on the iPhone and other mobile devices.

Apple made a splash last week with the launch of iPad, a device that falls somewhere between a notebook and smartphone, containing a flat-panel touch screen, wireless connectivity and a virtual keyboard while providing the user with the ability to watch movies, read books electronically, listen to music and access about 150,000 smart phone applications.

Security researchers put the Apple iPad on par with other industry-changing devices, such as the iPod and the iPhone. Meanwhile, Cupertino issued an update to iPhone and iPod Touch Tuesday, patching CoreAudio, ImageIO and WebKit vulnerabilities that could enable remote hackers to execute malicious code that would allow them to take control of a user's device. However, Kevin Finisterre, head of penetration testing for NetraGard, said that those same vulnerabilities could ostensibly extend to the iPad, once it officially is put on the market.

"I think that realistically, it's going to be the same song and dance we saw with the iPod and iPhone. You're going to see quite a bit of the folks doing the standard jailbreaking techniques." said Finisterre. "Literally, it's a big iPod Touch. We're not really breaking any new ground here."

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Security experts say that the iPad's popularity in the marketplace will determine whether it will be a worthy target for hackers.

"What' going to drive the level of threat is the level of adoption," said David Perry, global education director for security company Trend Micro.

As with the iPhone and other Apple devices, iPad users will likely be required to purchase approved software through the company's Apple App Store. Subsequently, the new iPad will likely be subject to a slew of jailbreaking attempts by hackers capitalizing on its weak encryption, browser vulnerabilities, and lack of firewall, in an attempt to find ways to run unauthorized and malicious software on the device, Finisterre said.

As with the iPhone, one of the most vulnerable attack vectors in the new iPad will likely be browser based, Finisterre said, which will likely subject the device to numerous Web kit vulnerability exploits, he said.

Daniel Hoffman, executive vice president and chief technology officer for SMobile Systems, said that he had seen malicious apps make their way into Apple's App store. Meanwhile, Apple prohibits third party security software from being installed on its mobile devices, which doesn't bode well for the iPad, considering its anticipated mass consumer appeal, security experts say.

"You wouldn't think of doing mobile banking without having antivirus on your system," Hoffman said. "With these new devices, you do not see that offered. Apple is prohibiting third party vendors from developing applications. They're being prohibited from being installed."

The iPad's e-mail client is another formidable threat vector. While thus far, there haven't been many e-mail vulnerabilities in OS X, Finisterre said that he detected a buffer overflow vulnerability in the OS X e-mail client, which would enable hackers to infect users by sending malicious attachments over e-mail, among other things. A similar hack could easily be executed on the iPad, he said.

"You're talking about a very minimal interaction on the user's part," he said. "A vulnerability like that obviously would be a direct and easy way to impact the user of that device."

Next: Concerns Raised About Password Protection

The launch of the iPad has also raised concerns in the security community due to the fact that it lacks comprehensive encryption and password protection functions, despite the fact that the new device touts mobile e-mail and Web capabilities. The lack of beefy encryption doesn't bode well for a device that consumers will be using as one of their primary communications tools, experts say.

Hoffman said that from a forensics standpoint, the iPad's embedded encryption was "worthless."

'"(Encryption is) implemented in such a poor manner," he said. "It was as if it didn't have any encryption."

Hoffman added that the iPad also does not include a built-in firewall, which will inevitably pave the way for hackers to access users' devices, especially when accessing the Web from public networks.

"A lot of these devices connect to different carrier networks. A common connection point is Wi-Fi, which certainly is great from a productivity standpoint. From a security standpoint, it's a nightmare," Hoffman said. "The number one security measure is a firewall. Today, there aren't any of these devices that are firewall enabled."

Also, like the iPhone, the iPad is media-rich device, subjecting it to all the same QuickTime vulnerabilities.

"An image or a media processing bug is going to be a huge point of attack surface for this type of device," Finisterre said. "Images, movies, audio ... realistically those are going to be what people are trying to bank on."

However, Trend Micro's Perry added that it would likely be much more secure -- at least initially -- than a Windows laptop, possibly making it an attractive mobile device in the enterprise.

"(The iPhone) is nowhere nearly as badly hacked as Windows XP," Perry said. "This might be a much safer platform for a businessman to carry than an existing notebook."

But other security experts say that users should probably just take the same security precautions with the iPad as with any other computer in order to stay safe.

"The end user needs to think about protecting these devices in the exact same manner that they would protect a laptop computer," Hoffman said. "These devices are being used for the exact same functions, just formatted a little bit differently."