It’s possible to trick an iPhone user into believing that their device is in Airplane Mode.
The technique has not yet been observed in the wild. Also, it’s not exactly child’s play – it’s only possible once the attacker has taken control of a device through a series of exploits.
The technique on iOS16 was developed by security researchers at Jamf Threat Labs. In essence, a victim thinks he’s turned on the Airplane Mode when in fact it's just window-dressing – the attacker maintains access to the device while the victim believes they’re offline.
People go offline with Airplane Mode not only when they travel – some do it to preserve battery or simply disconnect from the world for a while.
“For those with cyber-paranoia and technophobia, putting your phone on Airplane Mode may be a useful psychological trick to help achieve peace of mind and a feeling of additional privacy. But should you use Airplane Mode to protect your security and privacy?” Jamf Threat Labs researchers asked before suggesting an answer.
They’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to fake Airplane Mode. They created an artificial Airplane Mode, which means that when the user turns it on, the device will not be disconnected from the cellular network. However, to fully trick the user into believing they’re offline, the user won’t get any notifications from their usual services, so there’s no reason to suspect anything. However, the device will remain connected to the internet – but only to the attacker’s selected application.
“When combined with the other techniques outlined above, the fake Airplane Mode now appears to act just as the real one, except that the internet ban does not apply to non-application processes such as a Backdoor Trojan,” researchers concluded.
They contacted Apple and informed the company of their findings.
“This is not a vulnerability in Apple’s operating system, but rather a technique that would allow an attacker to maintain connectivity once they have taken control of the device through another series of exploits. Because there is not a bug that requires Apple's attention, this discovery fell outside of our normal responsible disclosure process. Regardless, our researchers did notify Apple of the research. We have not received any comment,” the company told Cybernews.
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