Apple has a hidden feature for you in its iPhones: call logs going back as far as four months are stored in near real-time in the iCloud.
That’s the warning today from a Russian provider of iPhone hacking tools, Elcomsoft, which claimed the feature was automatic and there was no way to turn it off bar shutting down iCloud Drive altogether.
Whilst it was well-known that iCloud backups would store call logs, contacts and plenty of other valuable data, users should be concerned to learn that their communications records are consistently being sent to Apple servers without explicit permission, said Elcomsoft CEO Vladimir Katalov. Even if those backups are disabled, he added, the call logs continue making their way to the iCloud, Katalov said. “Syncing call logs happens almost in real time, though sometimes only in a few hours,” he added. “But all you need to have is just iCloud Drive enabled, and there is no way to turn that syncing off, apart from just disabling iCloud Drive completely. In that case many applications will stop working or lose iCloud-related features completely.”
All FaceTime calls are logged in the iCloud too, whilst as of iOS 10 incoming missed calls from apps like WhatsApp and Skype are uploaded, said Elcomsoft, which provides phone forensics tools to police. Its tools were also linked to the iCloud leaks of celebrity nude pictures, as anyone can purchase Elcomsoft kit. Last month, it revealed Apple had failed to properly secure its iTunes backups, making it much easier for its tools (and cybercriminals) to access users’ information. Apple subsequently updated iOS 10 to improve backup security.
Boon for cops
Katalov believes automated iCloud storage of up-to-date logs would be beneficial for law enforcement wanting to get access to valuable iPhone data. And, he claimed, Apple hadn’t properly disclosed just what data was being stored in the iCloud and, therefore, what information law enforcement could demand.
Whereas Apple has declined to assist FBI forensics specialists in breaking its own security, it can easily access and provide iCloud data where the Cupertino tech titan is happy a legal warrant has been signed off by the Department of Justice. Indeed, in the case of the San Bernardino shooter, where the FBI demanded Apple help it hack the iPhone 5C of Syed Rizwan Farook, Apple revealed it had already handed over access to his iCloud. In its data access guide for law enforcement, Apple says the iCloud information that’s available includes email logs and content, text messages, photos, documents, contacts, calendars, bookmarks and iOS device backups.
“iCloud only stores content for the services that the subscriber has elected to maintain in the account while the subscriber’s account remains active,” Apple’s document reads. It does not mention consistently-updated call logs. The document also claims Apple does not hold data on FaceTime calls for more than 30 days, which Elcomsoft claimed was inaccurate. “Synced data contains full information including call duration and both parties,” Elcomsoft wrote in a release today. “We were able to extract information going back more than four months.”
Apple said the syncing did exist, a spokesperson explaining: “We offer call history syncing as a convenience to our customers so that they can return calls from any of their devices. Apple is deeply committed to safeguarding our customers’ data “That’s why we give our customers the ability to keep their data private. Device data is encrypted with a user’s passcode, and access to iCloud data including backups requires the user’s Apple ID and password. Apple recommends all customers select strong passwords and use two-factor authentication.” Last month, Apple was able to provide law enforcement with iPhone contacts, adding to concerns on just how the firm cooperated with FBI requests.
Time for Apple to ‘go all in on encryption’
Jonathan Zdziarski, a noted iOS forensics expert, told FORBES he believed Elcomsoft’s find was new and of concern, but was likely down to Apple oversight, as with the iTunes backup vulnerability of last month. “I suspect that this is probably more of an engineering issue around making handoff work when you are answering calls between your phone and your desktop or if you’re using FaceTime on your desktop.
They need to be able to sync a lot of that call data. I suspect whatever software engineer wrote that part of it probably decided to just go and stick that data in your iCloud Drive because that’s kind of what it’s purpose is,” said Zdziarski, who’d been briefed by Elcomsoft prior to today too. “I’m convinced it wasn’t very well thought out if that’s the case.”
Zdziarski said the research should give Apple further encouragement to add proper end-to-end encryption to the iCloud. All iCloud content data is encrypted once it’s on the server and in transit. But unlike with its iPhone device encryption, Apple keeps the keys for iCloud accounts in its U.S. data centers, meaning whilst it can’t easily access the former it can quickly get data from the latter. That makes it much easier for customers to retrieve their iCloud data when, for instance, they lose their iPhone, as they don’t have to fret about having lost their encryption keys too.
But Zdziarski believes Apple could provide a fully encrypted iCloud and maintain usability. “Apple has already solved this problem with iCloud Keychain and the way they have a signing circle. A solution like that would mitigate most of the headaches that you’d have to deal with in key management,” he added. “If they sat there and clunked their heads together they could come up with a solution. “But politically speaking it could create a war with certain federal agencies that use that data on a daily basis.”