Renowned for its security and privacy features, the Apple iOS ecosystem enjoys a rigorous app review process as well as an iOS sandbox environment that significantly reduces the risk of malware and cyberattacks. This has been a notable benefit and key selling point for iOS users, but there are telltale signs that this is changing. Is the wall around Apple’s tightly controlled garden beginning to weaken?

The landscape of cybersecurity is always evolving, and no system is entirely immune to threats. Recent developments and vulnerabilities underscore the importance of not becoming complacent, even within the robust security framework of iOS.

iOS devices see a new wave of vulnerabilities and cyberthreats

With the introduction of iOS 17.4, Apple has begun to allow users in the European Union to sideload apps—download and install them from sources other than the Apple Store. While this move is designed to comply with regulatory demands for openness and competition, it does introduce new vectors for potential security risks. 

Apple itself has expressed concerns that sideloading could compromise the security and privacy standards iOS users have come to expect. Despite these changes, Apple is implementing safeguards to maintain as much security and compliance as possible, but the increased attack surface cannot be ignored. 

Moreover, several recent vulnerabilities have highlighted that even the most secure ecosystems can be exploited:

  • GoldPickaxe iOS and Android Malware – It demonstrates the sophistication of cybercriminals in crafting attacks that bypass biometric security measures. By tricking victims into providing personal information and face scans, attackers create deepfakes to access bank accounts, showing that even advanced security checks can be defeated with enough ingenuity. 
  • Operation Triangulation – Utilizing a zero-click exploit in iMessage, this campaign installed spyware without user interaction, showcasing the potential for sophisticated attacks to remain undetected while compromising privacy and security on iOS devices.
  • Fake Lockdown Mode – Fake lockdown mode research demonstrates a proof-of-concept post-exploitation tampering technique. It enables malware to deceive victims into thinking that their iPhones are in lockdown mode. 
  • Predator Spyware – Available on both iOS and Android, Predator offers a suite of capabilities for information theft, surveillance, and remote access. Its ability to impair defenses by stopping selected applications highlights the complexity of threats facing mobile devices today. 
  • Fake LastPass App – Apple recently pulled a fake LastPass app from the Apple Store and also banned the developer. Reports indicated that even though the imposter app didn’t appear near the top of related search results, it was still downloaded by users and even received negative reviews.
  • Zero-Day Vulnerabilities – Apple recently disclosed two iOS vulnerabilities, CVE-2024-23225 and CVE-2024-23296, patched in iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4 updates. These flaws, affecting newer iPhone and iPad models, involve memory corruption in the kernel and RTKit. These are the second and third zero-day issues addressed in 2024, following a January update.

Given these examples, it’s clear that while iOS offers a highly secure platform, vulnerabilities and sophisticated cyberattacks do exist. It’s essential for mobile app developers to adopt a more proactive approach to security, as relying solely on the inherent security features of iOS or the Apple Store’s review process may not be sufficient.

Raising the bar for compliance and security in mobile development

In fact, for many regulated industries like financial services, manufacturing, and healthcare, additional layered security, such as the solutions offered by Verimatrix, are relied upon by leading banks, fintech companies, and healthcare-related firms.

Responsible app developers go the extra mile to ensure both their Android and iOS apps are shielded from reverse engineering and malware attacks by implementing cybersecurity techniques such as anti-tamper, code obfuscation, environmental checks, anti-jailbreak/rooting, and more.

The belief that iOS apps require little additional security is a bit of a misconception. It’s true that iOS is a very safe ecosystem. However, the dynamic nature of cybersecurity threats, combined with recent developments allowing sideloading in the EU, necessitates a vigilant and comprehensive approach to security for all mobile app developers. 

By enhancing the security measures within iOS apps, especially for apps serving regulated industries where additional layered security may be mandated, developers can contribute to maintaining the high standard of security and privacy that users expect.