According to a new report, it is possible to load malware on your iPhone even when it is turned off.
The study by researchers from the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany found that the chip that enables Bluetooth can be exploited and hacked in order to install malware on a device without the user’s permission – even though the phone is turned off.
This comes in light of the new iOS 15 update, which includes a feature that lets you be able to locate the iPhone even when it’s turned off.
Apple claimed that this new feature will enhance users’ security as it allows them to find a lost or stolen phone, even when it is turned off.
However, since the chips remain on even when the iPhone is turned off, researchers warn that this could pose a new threat.
The feature is enabled because three wireless chips remain turned on — Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC), and Ultra Wideband (UWB) — noted in the paper.
This allows the phone to continue sending signals, and is designed to help the owner find his or her phone if it is lost.
This is something the newspaper calls “low power mode,” which is “different from the power saving mode indicated by the yellow battery icon.”
Malware can be installed on your iPhone – even when it’s turned off
The paper – released last week titled “Evil Never Sleeps: When Wireless Malware Stay on after Turning iPhones” – revealed that it is possible to install malware on the iPhone’s Bluetooth chip.
At this time, there is no evidence of this type of attack being used yet.
The study also concluded that hackers would first need to hack and jailbreak an iPhone to be able to access and exploit the Bluetooth chip.
At this time, there is no evidence of this type of attack being used yet. My theory, and there is no evidence of this type of attack being used.
Despite this, the findings raised important privacy and data protection concerns.
And the newspaper warned: “On modern iPhones, wireless chips can no longer be trusted to turn off after turning off. This poses a new threat.”
“Previous work has considered that journalists are not safe against spying when airplane mode is enabled if their smartphone is compromised.
“[Low-Power Mode] It is a relevant attack front that must be taken into account by high-value targets such as journalists, or it can be weaponized to build wireless malware that runs on iPhones that are turned off.”
The paper notes that researchers disclosed these security issues disclosed to the submission but that the company had no feedback.
“Apple introduced the Find My After Power Off feature in the first beta versions of iOS 15. We assumed that this feature was implemented within the Bluetooth firmware – and this made us very concerned because our team had discovered several security issues within this firmware in the past. , Jessica Claassen, lead researcher on the study, told Euronews.next.
“After conducting an in-depth analysis, we found that there are three wireless chips that support continuity after a power failure: Bluetooth, NFC, and UWB. Bluetooth firmwares are the most insecure and can be modified.”
In the event that there is malware on a smartphone, such as Pegasus, “[it] Clasen explained that he was unable to install malware running in the Bluetooth chip while the iPhone was turned off.”
Should you be worried?
“We assume that such malware does not target the average user,” she added.
It does, however, suggest that politicians or journalists, as well as their close contacts, may be vulnerable to these attacks, citing previous research from Citizen Lab, in which dozens of Al Jazeera journalists were hacked using spyware.
“Apple has made hardware changes to support Bluetooth after a power outage since the iPhone 11 – these hardware changes cannot be undone,” Classen said.
“Apple could add a physical power switch that disconnects the battery in future iPhones”.
“Broadcom, the maker of the Bluetooth chip, said it has support for checking firmware signatures, and Apple can activate this feature in Bluetooth ROMs for future iPhones.”
Speaking to Euronews Next, Clasen was careful to stress that they only showed the possibility of installing malware in Bluetooth chips – not that this is a common practice.
“It is difficult to know if malware attacks are increasing, as many attacks may not be detected,” she added.
“As far as we know, this has not been used against real-world targets.”
Apple declined to comment when contacted by Euronews.next.