Researchers have uncovered huge holes in the application sandboxes protecting Apple's OS X and iOS operating systems, a discovery that allows them to create apps that pilfer iCloud, Gmail, and banking passwords and can also siphon data from 1Password, Evernote, and other apps.
The malicious proof-of-concept apps were approved by the Apple Store, which requires all qualifying submissions to treat every other app as untrusted. Despite the supposed vetting by Apple engineers, the researchers' apps were able to bypass sandboxing protections that are supposed to prevent one app from accessing the credentials, contacts, and other resources belonging to another app. Like Linux, Android, Windows, and most other mainstream OSes, OS X and iOS strictly limit app access for the purpose of protecting them against malware. The success of the researchers' cross-app resource access—or XARA—attacks, raises troubling doubts about those assurances on the widely used Apple platforms.
"The consequences are dire," they wrote in a research paper titled Unauthorized Cross-App Resource Access on MAC OS X and iOS. "For example, on the latest Mac OS X 10.10.3, our sandboxed app successfully retrieved from the system's keychain the passwords and secret tokens of iCloud, email and all kinds of social networks stored there by the system app Internet Accounts, and bank and Gmail passwords from Google Chrome." Referring to interprocess communication, which is the tightly controlled and Apple-approved mechanism for one app to interact with another and the Bundle ID token used to enforce sandbox policies, the researchers continued: