The truth about XCode Ghost – UPDATE

XCcode Ghost

See my update below.

As this already goes around in the news and not only in the technical press, you will have heard about the XCode Ghost issue and the so claimed “Apple’s biggest malware attack”.

What happened is in short: Some developers, mainly from China downloaded the so called XCode development environment, which is required to develop Apps from dubious websites instead of Apples official website or Apples App Store. The version they downloaded was infected and so were the Apps produced by this XCode version. Some Apps made it to the App Store and some are still available for downloading.

So far, so bad. Scary, isn’t it.

No, it’s not that bad.

Unfortunately, the press and even the people from paloalto networks who “revealed” this story first are currently mystifying this subject rather than informing fully and correctly. They even provide misleading and even obviously wrong information.

So here is my story:

I personally found one of the effected Apps on my device (CamScanner this App has yet been removed from the Store so I can’t provide the link). I reverse engineered this App and can confirm that it indeed contains the XCode Ghost “Virus”.

Further investigation of the code revealed that this code is almost harmless. At least as harmless as all the damn Flurry, AppCrashLog, UserActivity Libraries I am complaining about for quite some time.

It “just” collects even less than Flurry does and submits it to a server (init.icloud-analysis.com). There is DEFINITELY NO key logger included, NO POPUP will be displayed that asks for an Apple ID/iCloud access or something similar. The rumors about this are absolutely wrong.

Of course, the code could have been more dangerous and my finding depends on just one App so this is not an “all-clear”.

However, most likely it is not as bad as the press writes. There is no prove (maybe yet) that there is any App “infected” in a way that user’s security is affected.

The reason why I am very confident about this is, that I was able to find the source code on the Internet which is 100% identical to the code I found in CamScanner and that also fit’s 100% to the story of paloalto networks. That source code is also garnished with a Chinese “excuse me” of the developer who is claiming to be the author of XCode Ghost.

Take a look yourself here: github.com/XcodeGhostSource (maybe use Google translate to read it)

Until there is no further prove otherwise, I assume that this is exactly the code which is included now in some Apps on the App Store.

Apple is currently trying to identify these Apps (which should not be too difficult) and removing them. I however would also expect a list of these Apps from Apple (not like the one on the paloalto website which contains spelling errors and App Names that are available several times on the App Store) so we know which Apps may still reside on our devices.

For your information, and that’s also missing in all the other press statements, you just need to delete the App and it’s gone. There is nothing that remains on your device after you delete it.

And here is, what you can do as NetworkToolbox user:

As explained earlier, my App contains the recently introduced Connections tool. This is ideal to identify such unwanted connections. I just wrote a small tutorial which explains how to detect XCode Ghost using NetworkToolbox.

You may wonder what Apple can do to prevent this from happening in the future. To be honest, so far, there is nothing to blame Apple for right now because (as mentioned before) this code is “harmless” in terms that it doesn’t access secured information and it doesn’t use private APIs. Otherwise I would have been quite sure that Apple would have rejected the Apps (as happened to my Apps).

The most people that have to be blamed are the developers that downloaded XCode from the dubious websites and used it for submitting the Apps to Apple using it. The same thing could definitely have happened on the Microsoft Platform. Maybe even easier because Microsoft does not offer some real App Store approval process at all.Not to talk about Android where there is no protection at all for way easier kind of injections with way more uncontrolled device access.

But I guess, Apple will now most likely speed up and shorten the grace time period for developer of Apps that now have to use HTTPS/TLS rather than HTTP and need to announce and name all domains that their App connects to.


UPDATE

For long time, it seemed that I am the only one claiming that XCode Ghost is relatively harmless. All the so called ‘Security Researchers’, the big press like the German ‘Tagesschau’ and even Heise never got tired of repeating the same story that XCode Ghost has been the biggest hit to iPhone App users security ever and everybody is at risk.

Recently also FireEye (who already is one of my friends) was dared to say that they experienced some MITM (Man in the middle attacks) and offered to “protect their customers” against XCode Ghost.

I sent a lot of mails to those researchers and companies telling them that they are wrong in their assumptions and that they should spend a few minutes in analyzing the code. Probably that was either too difficult for them or they just didn’t listen.

For instance, I asked FireEye what the heck they think how MITM attacks could compromise the users of Apps with XCode Ghost. No answer. Dead end. Probably because the answer is, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

There are still numerous false alarms regarding Phishing and Clipboard interception capabilities of XCode Ghost.

Unfortunately, this all was said by inexperienced, unthinkingly, ignorant, arrogant and attention addictive so called security researchers and the unfortunate so called “press” and security websites just copied and pasted their wrong conclusions.

For me, this is definitely the real issue with XCode Ghost.

Anyway, I gave up repeating the truth about it, hoping many people will read this post and come to their own conclusion.

But it was nice to see that I am finally not alone with my conclusions. See here:

www.appthority.com/enterprise-mobile-threats

Don’t trust the evil!

Regards,

Marcus