Apple watch flaw enables snooping, fix on the way

News by SC Staff

Apple watch users could listen through another customer's iPhone without consent in walkie talkie function that has now been disabled while a fix is created.

Apple’s Watch Walkie Talkie app has been diabled after it was found that it could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent. 

Apple was alerted to the bug via its report a vulnerability portal. It then issued a statement saying it had disabled the function while it would quickly fix the issue. It did not disclose the nature of the vulnerability but said, "We are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it."  Apple acknowledged that the bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent and it apologised to customers. The functionality remains on the watches but will be disabled until updated with a fix, currently being made. 

The speed of response was praised by Gavin Millard, VP of intelligence at Tenable  who commented in an email to SC Media UK: "Apple are generally good at addressing flaws once discovered, and the proactive approach of disabling the Walkie Talkie app is a quick fix to protect the millions of users affected." 

Boris Cipot, senior security engineer at Synopsys concurred describing Apple’s response as, "A great example of how to deal with security vulnerabilities - not relying on customers doing something or pushing the problem to the user, but taking the responsibility and switching a vulnerable functionality off through an update and notifying the users as to what happened.

"Security vulnerabilities and bugs are a fact in software development. Every piece of software can have bugs or security misses, mostly due to code complexity, new technology implementation or even quality issues. If we are aware of this, and take the responsibility for it, we can plan beforehand and put procedures in place for when vulnerabilities do happen. This then results in being a trustworthy software provider."

However, Brian Higgins, security specialist at Comparitech.com was more critical, saying: "This is another alarming example of the ‘sell it first and fix it later’ attitude that the major tech firms take towards their consumers. It’s become common business practice to launch unsafe and poorly tested software into the world and companies like Apple are happy to take the reputational hit when users report back to them that they’ve failed to secure their product yet again.

"It’s all very well ‘quietly pushing out’ updates but it’s manifestly unfair on the end user to expect them to do the job their providers DevOps teams should be doing for them. If Apple invested in some DevSecOps for a change, people might feel slightly better about them the next time this happens."

Millard, noted: "This is the second major vulnerability affecting apps based on FaceTime this year, the previous issue disclosed back in January also enabled remote snooping of conversations. Flaws of this nature are incredibly concerning as they could be leveraged for many nefarious purposes, including commercial and political espionage.

Separately, an update has been made available to fix the  Zoom conference app vulnerability reported on Tuesday in SC Media UK.

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