Your iPhone can be hacked with malware even when it’s switched off, new research finds

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According to a new investigation, malware can be loaded into an iPhone even while it is switched off.

Researchers at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany discovered that a Bluetooth chip may be abused and hacked to install malware on a device without the user’s knowledge, even while the phone is turned off.

This is in light of the latest iOS 15 release, which features a function that allows you to find an iPhone even if it is turned off.

Apple claims that this new function would improve user security by allowing them to locate a lost or stolen phone even while it is switched off.

Researchers warn that because the chips remain active even when the iPhone is shut off, this could represent a new threat.

According to the report, the capability is available because three wireless chips remain active – Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC), and Ultra-wideband (UWB).

This permits the phone to keep sending signals and is intended to assist the owner in locating their phone if it is lost.

This is referred to as “Low-Power Mode” in the article, and it’s “distinct from the energy-saving mode indicated by a yellow battery symbol.”

Malware can infect your iPhone even when it is turned off.

The research, titled “Evil Never Sleeps: When Wireless Malware Stays On After Turning Off iPhones,” was published last week and claimed that malware could be installed on the iPhone’s Bluetooth chip.

There is currently no proof that this type of attack has been carried out.

The study also suggests that in order to access and exploit the Bluetooth chip, hackers would have to first hack and jailbreak the iPhone.

There is currently no proof that this type of attack has been carried out.
is hypothetical, with no evidence that such an attack has been deployed.

Despite this, the findings have generated serious privacy and data security issues.

“Wireless chips in current iPhones can no longer be trusted to switch off after shutdown.
This creates a whole new threat model “The newspaper forewarned.

“Previous research merely assumed that setting aeroplane mode in case their devices were compromised would protect journalists from surveillance.

“[Low-Power Mode] is a relevant attack surface that high-value targets, such as journalists, should be aware of, or that can be weaponized to create wireless malware that operates on shutdown iPhones.”

According to the document, researchers informed Apply of the discovered security flaws, but the firm received no response.

“In the early iOS 15 betas, Apple included the ‘Find My After Power Off’ feature.
We assumed that this capability was built into the Bluetooth firmware, which worried us because our team had previously discovered many security flaws in that firmware “Jiska Classen, one of the study’s lead researchers, told Euronews Next.

“After a thorough investigation, we discovered that three wireless chips: Bluetooth, NFC, and UWB have the ability to stay on after the power has been turned off.
Bluetooth firmware is the most vulnerable and may be altered “.

If malicious software, such as Pegasus, is installed on a smartphone, “[it] could not install malware running in the Bluetooth chip when the iPhone is switched off,” according to Classen.

Is it necessary to be concerned?

“We assume that the normal person is not a target for such spyware,” she continued.

She does, however, mention that politicians or journalists, as well as their close associates, may be vulnerable to these attacks, citing Citizen Lab research that found dozens of Al Jazeera journalists were hacked using spyware.

“Since the iPhone 11, Apple has made hardware adjustments to support Bluetooth after power off, and these hardware changes cannot be reversed,” Classen stated.

“In future iPhones, Apple may have a physical power switch that disconnects the battery.”

“Broadcom, the Bluetooth chip maker, indicated they have functionality for checking firmware signatures, and Apple might enable this feature in future iPhone Bluetooth ROMs.”

Classen was quick to point out to Euronews Next that they were merely demonstrating the possibility of malware being planted in Bluetooth chips, not that this is typical practise.

“It’s impossible to say whether malware attacks are on the rise because many attacks go undetected,” she noted.

“As far as we know, this has never been employed against real-world targets.”

When contacted by Euronews Next, Apple declined to comment.

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