Apple giving special iPhones to spot bugs, Google ‘disappointed’

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SAN FRANSISCO: Apple is giving away special iPhones with privileged access to security researchers to spot new vulnerabilities and report those back to the company but this will not help Google teams which are busy finding bugs in Apple devices.

Part of Apple’s new security programme, the Security Research Device (SRD) is intended for use in a controlled setting for security research and are “provided on a 12-month renewable basis and remain the property of Apple”.

At the moment, security researchers looking to find vulnerabilities on an iPhone have to jailbreak the devices but that comes with several limits like older devices.

Apple said on Wednesday that the new programme would make it easier for security researchers to start finding vulnerabilities with special iPhone hardware. “They are not meant for personal use or daily carry, and must remain on the premises of program participants at all times. Access to and use of SRDs must be limited to people authorized by Apple,” said the company.

The move, however, will not help Google’s Project Zero team that has found bugs in Apple devices in the past.

“It looks like we won’t be able to use the Apple ‘Security Research Device’ due to the vulnerability disclosure restrictions, which seem specifically designed to exclude Project Zero and other researchers who use a 90 day policy,” tweeted a “disappointed” Project Zero team lead Ben Hawkes.

“I think we first asked Apple for a security research test device in 2014 or early 2015. And since then we’ve reported over 350 security vulnerabilities to Apple”.

Hawkes, however, said they will continue to research Apple platforms and provide Apple with all of their findings. Apple said that that shell access is available for security researchers and they will be able to run any tools and choose entitlements.

“If you use the SRD to find, test, validate, verify, or confirm a vulnerability, you must promptly report it to Apple and, if the bug is in third-party code, to the appropriate third party. If you didn’t use the SRD for any aspect of your work with a vulnerability, Apple strongly encourages (and rewards, through the Apple Security Bounty) that you report the vulnerability, but you are not required to do so”.

If you report a vulnerability affecting Apple products, Apple will provide you with a publication date (usually the date on which Apple releases the update to resolve the issue).

Not all security researchers are eligible and the participation in the Security Research Device Programme is subject to review, said Apple.

“Device availability is limited. Devices will not be available for all qualified applicants in the initial application period. Qualified applicants who do not receive a device during this period will automatically be considered during the next application period in 2021,” said Apple.

To be eligible, one must be a membership Account Holder in the Apple Developer Programme, have a proven track record of success in finding security issues on Apple platforms, or other modern operating systems and platforms.