Apple recently posted an explanation of three diagnostics capabilities built into the mobile operating system in what appears to be a response to allegations of installing “backdoor” services with the intent to harvest data from iOS devices. As listed in the support document, Apple details three iOS services and explains how they work and why they exist. This is all done in an attempt to address accusations that it installs backdoor services in cahoots with government agencies looking to keep an eye on devices owners.
The services that are detailed were mentioned by forensic scientist and iOS hackers Jonathan Zdziarski in a recent talk at the HOPE/X conference in New York. Zdziarski highlighted certain suspicious iOS background assets that appeared to serve no diagnostics purposes, but could potentially be exploited by law enforcement agencies or malicious hackers to steal sensitive personal data from iOS devices.
In its support document, the Cupertino California company addresses three of these services, coincidentally listed in the same order as presented by Zdziarski in his slide deck, explaining how each works and its intended use as a diagnostics tool for developers or IT professionals. Apple’s support document mentions the following:
pcapd supports diagnostic packet capture from an iOS device to a trusted computer. This is useful for troubleshooting and diagnosing issues with apps on the device as well as enterprise VPN connections. You can find more information at developer.apple.com/library/ios/qa/qa1176.
file_relay supports limited copying of diagnostic data from a device. This service is separate from user-generated backups, does not have access to all data on the device, and respects iOS Data Protection. Apple engineering uses file_relay on internal devices to qualify customer configurations. AppleCare, with user consent, can also use this tool to gather relevant diagnostic data from users' devices.
house_arrest is used by iTunes to transfer documents to and from an iOS device for apps that support this functionality. This is also used by Xcode to assist in the transfer of test data to a device while an app is in development.
Along with these points, Apple points readers in the direction of documents that explain data syncing and the “Trust this computer” iOS feature that protects against data extraction from an unknown Mac or PC.
Although the document answers three of the services questioned by Zdziarski, the hacker mentioned many more, including those with the potential to seemingly bypass iOS backup encryption to serve up data from a user’s address book, capture pictures from social media feeds, install spyware using enterprise tools and more. For its part, Apple responded to the allegations in a recently issued statement saying diagnostic function in iOS are designed to fight off any compromise of user privacy and security. Apple mentioned the following regarding the matter:
As we have said before, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products of services.
Source: Apple (Support)