How Serious Is Apple’s Chip Vulnerability?

A security researcher claims Apple Mac and MacBook computers with the T2 chip can be hacked with the same exploit used for jailbreaking an iPhone.

A security researcher recently claimed that Mac and MacBook computers that include Apple‘s T2 chip have a serious vulnerability. The problem is related to a known exploit used to hack the iPhone operating system. Apple has not yet responded, but doubt has been raised by others regarding the severity of the flaw.

Apple takes security very seriously, as do most large computer manufacturers. To go beyond the usual software solutions, Apple began including special hardware to provide additional levels of protection. The idea is that software is more easily manipulated and the hardware layer excludes most threats before they even get started. While Apple describes the T2 as a ‘security’ chip, it serves various other functions including image processing for FaceTime, audio control and SSD control. The security features are related to Touch ID, encryption and secure boot capabilities.

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Security researcher Niels Hofmans of ironPeak Services claims that every Apple product that includes the T2 security chip is vulnerable to the same exploit used for jailbreaking an iPhone. If true, the flaw cannot be repaired and affects every Mac made since 2018, as well as the iMac Pro which was first released in 2017. Being a widespread issue, one would expect Apple to address the problem if it felt action was warranted. The blog posting notes that efforts were made to alert Apple and numerous websites privately with no response before deciding to go public with this information. The issue was downplayed on Twitter and Will Strafach, developer of the Guardian VPN app, had plenty to say on the topic, expressing amazement at claims made with little evidence.

How Serious Is The Flaw?

If a Mac was successfully attacked using this vulnerability, the hacker would have root access and kernel execution privileges. While this means files can be accessed, encrypted files would remain encrypted and would have little value. It also means that code can be injected and run on the computer. For example, the blog notes that a key logger could be installed to collect the passcode needed to decrypt data. So collecting personal data would not be easy, but may be possible.

This leads to the final puzzle piece to determine how severe the issue is. How can the hack take place? The good news is that a remote hack is not possible. It has to do with a debugging interface that Apple didn’t properly secure. Apple allows one computer to access another via USB for the purpose of trouble-shooting problems. That means someone would need access to the Mac in order to run the exploit, although one troubling possibility is that an attack could be deployed through a malicious USB cable. Until Apple responds, it may be best to keep an eye on Mac computers that may otherwise be left unattended.

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Source: ironPeakWill Strafach/Twitter

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