Kaspersky denied iOS app: Apple buries its head in the security sand

Kaspersky denied iOS app: Apple buries its head in the security sand

Summary: Apple was in a Catch-22 situation, but ultimately denied Kaspersky's request for an iOS anti-virus app. The refusal crucially shows how much in denial Apple is over its devices' security.

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TOPICS: Apple, Security
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Apple has denied Kaspersky's bid to develop anti-virus software for iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad, and has warned that the decision will only lead to malware writers targeting the mobile operating system in the future.

Speaking to The Register, the security firm's founder and chief executive Eugene Kaspersky said he was "a little bit disappointed" because "Apple won’t let us" develop a security solution for iOS.

iOS may not need protection, but Apple's reputation certainly does. The company looks weak in security circles. It was only a few weeks since Kaspersky claimed Apple was "10 years behind Microsoft" security wise.

Apple continues to bury its head over iOS and OS X security and seems to have no interest in changing its position. Even when Apple can't ignore a major malware attack, it stumbles into action days or weeks later. The rest of the time it sticks its fingers in its ears in the face of anybody criticising it.

For malware writers to successfully attack iOS en masse, malware has to pass itself off as an application and successfully navigate through the Apple App Store vetting procedure.

This is what happened with Charlie Miller. He wrote an application that phoned home to his server and injected code into his application. He was ultimately booted out of the Apple Developer Program for not only breaking the phone-home rules, but for knowingly deceiving Apple during the submission process.

The other way is if iPhones and iPads are jailbroken and third-party applications --- with no application store vetting procedure --- is installed by the owner. Apple will likely say while jailbreaking is legal, it does not recommend it and will void the user's warranty. If iPhone or iPad users become infected with malware on a jailbroken device, it's not Apple's problem.

Except: it is. Apple can disassociate itself from jailbroken iPhones and iPads, but the brand damage alone will harm the company.

iOS currently has 29.9 percent of the global mobile market share according to recent Gartner figures, and 30.7 percent according to comScore's latest poll.

But because mobile market share is increasingly important and gaining on desktop or tablet numbers, it should come as no surprise that mobile devices are the next target on the malware writers' list.

Android and iOS take up the number one and two spots in global market share, though Android is way ahead of iOS. But Google Play, the new name for the Android Market, is far from perfect. No more than a month after Google said it would automatically scan uploaded Android applications for malware, malware writers found another attack route: mobile websites.

iPhones and iPads will be next on the list. It's inevitable, and bound to happen.

For Kaspersky, it cannot develop security features for iOS because Apple's SDK simply doesn't allow it. The antivirus maker notes that attacking iOS is "more complicated".

"They are happy with Windows computers. Now they are happy with Mac. They are happy with Android. It is much more difficult to infect iOS but it is possible and when it happens it will be the worst-case scenario because there will be no protection," Kaspersky said.

Apple still believes that Macs can do no wrong, and though it no longer makes the claim that Macs "doesn't get PC viruses," but it believes it can still say the same about iOS.

Macs have seen two major attacks in as many years: first with the Mac Defender outbreak, and this year with more than 600,000 Macs attacked by Flashback malware. As ZDNet's Ed Bott succinctly puts it, the Flashback episode alone has thoroughly "exposed Apple’s security weak spots."

Windows has always been an attractive target for malware writers, with more than 90 percent of the global market share, while Apple has around 5--7 percent of the market. However, Apple's share is on the increase by around one percentage point per year.

On two fronts: by denying Kaspersky or any other malware protection company from the App Store shows weakness in long-term planning. It also looks weak if it does allow in anti-virus software, because it paints the impression that iOS is vulnerable and requires third-party help to stay secure.

The reason it doesn't is because Apple thinks iOS is not vulnerable to malware. And if you take jailbroken devices, that's the customer's decision and out of Apple's hands. If iOS does get attacked, Apple will likely take the same position it did with the Mac Defender malware and the Flashback outbreak by acting only after it is forced to do so by pressure from the public and the press.

Image credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET.

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Topics: Apple, Security

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104 comments
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  • Childish response from Apple

    At least in the Android market place, they acknowledge the importance of anti-malware software. The only advantage iOS has over Android is that it is a smaller market.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Smaller market?

      The only advantage iOS has over Android is that it has proper sandboxing and application wetting process. It also has a number of restrictions that make it writing malware extremely hard.

      On the other hand, Apple has never wanted big market share. They are interested in another aspect of business: profit.
      danbi
      • Sandboxing?

        Proper sandboxing? Lol
        That's one of the things they are LACKING on. Their vetting process is really their ONLY line of defense.
        Natanael_L
      • Profit driven - not consumer driven

        Ding ding! The number 1 goal of Apple is profit - that is its main consideration on every decision. That's where Android is different - the number 1 goal is making consumers happy. Google believes that happy consumers will drive profit, yes, but their focus is actually on what the consumers want - and avoiding creating unnecessary limitations.
        kschzhd
      • Re: On the other hand, Apple has never wanted big market share

        [quote]They are interested in another aspect of business: profit. [/quote]

        You meant: Profits only Apple patron's backs...
        ZenMatters
      • you forget

        That Android with ChromeOS are the only systems where every app is confined in its own sandbox, i.e., it has to run under a unique uid and even more importantly, has to manifest all resource and system permissions before installation, such as Internet access, disk storage, text messages, phone calls if applicable etc .
        No other platform does it. The Linux and BSD dstros might not simply require one due to the presence of secure repositories therein.
        eulampius
      • Right. Because everyone knows the best way

        to make a profit is to ensure your consumers are UNhappy. Sheesh. If this is what passes for economic intellect today no wonder we're in the mess we are.
        baggins_z
      • Sandboxing

        Because Google tells you something, doesn't make it true.
        (as a consequence, finding something by doing Google search doesn't make that information authoritative. Not finding something via Google search doesn't mean it does not exist.)
        That said, you threat any information coming from Google with a grain of salt, don't you? Ok, if you trust them blindly, that's your choice.

        Any UNIX system requires each process to run with certain privileges. You can have any program run under different UID, no big deal. In fact it is not only trivial, but is how software is installed and run in iOS as well.

        Sanboxing is something different, btw. :)
        danbi
      • Google's number one goal is scouring your data to sell you targeted ads..

        @ kschzhd... in order to CREATE PROFIT... their goal is to get 3rd party manufactures to get as much crap out there and sell it as cheaply as possible so they can harvest as many people's personal info as possible... the means are different, but Google's end goal is the same.. make profit... but google just doesn't make it on devices and software.. they make it on targeted ads.. with Google it's the wild, wild west.. anything goes.. do whatever you want.. with Apple sells a curated, vetted experience.. different stroke for different folks!

        Apple creates products that people want in order to sell devices.. in order to make profit.. it would be totally against apple interested to make users unhappy or limit them any more than they want to be...
        theFunkDoctorSpoc
      • Apple needs help understanding 'security'

        Apple's sandboxing is like building your house adjacent to the flood wall. Nice and safe whilst it works, but you're totally ruined once the flood wall eventually fails.

        Apple - you know hardware, you know software - which means you KNOW it's only a matter of time before someone clever figures out how to easily cripple your system. Security is a concern - not a novelty.
        another.rob
      • Of course they are out for profit!

        As is every other private company on the planet. You could say the same thing about Walmart or the mom and pop convenience store up the street. To the guy who says Google wants to "CREATE PROFIT" well, duh...of course they do. By the way putting things in all caps doesn't really help your case.
        cornpie
      • Natanael_L & kschzhd

        @Natanael_L You seem to think that the vetting is their only line of defense and there is an issue with that yet it seems to work a whole lot better than the Android approach.

        @kschzhd You have got some serious blinders on if you think that Google or any of their Android partner's number 1 goal is not profit and are delusional if you think it's happy consumers.
        non-biased
    • Childish attacks by Kaspersky

      If a company went out and publicly derided my platform to anyone who would listen, I'd shut them out too. Someone will get the go-ahead from Apple to develop an anti-virus solution for iOS, but it won't be Kaspersky. They very effectively shot themselves in the foot by making such a public statement about Apple. I'd expect Apple to shut them out completely if it's in their power.
      jasonp@...
      • Are you kidding?

        If you want to go play the proverbial ostrich / head / sand be my guest. As a consumer is tells me to question the trust I have placed in you.

        :|
        rhonin
      • ....

        You look at it as a true brainwashed sheeple. Apple wouldnt even admit to its most loyal customers it could get infected.One of the most trusted malware removal companys ask to help with a solution and apple pretends it still doesnt have a major issue. Im not an apple fan but in reality that means apple thinks its customers are idiots and those who believe as you do prove the idiocy.
        Fletchguy
      • And Apple may also be shooting themselves in the foot

        By denying one the biggest anti-virus companies the opportunity to write their AV.
        dsa791
      • I agree, would not use them either

        At least not after the statements they have made and the follow up since being kept off iOS does sound like a child whining because he didn't get the toy he wanted. Nobody know exactly what Apple is doing or has planned. They need to do something for OSX and iOS but just because they have denied Kaspersky does not mean what all the anti Apple people here are say, that Apple has it's head in the sand and is doing nothing. I can't prove they are doing something but you also can't prove they are not.
        non-biased
    • Yes, Sandboxing!

      [quote]Natanael_L: Proper sandboxing? Lol
      That's one of the things they are LACKING on.[/quote]

      This just isn't true.

      As of Lion, the Safari browser (based on WebKit2) sandboxes each web tab separately. While the outcome looks similar to Chrome's sandboxing, the WebKit2 notes make it clear that sandboxing is done at a higher level (i.e. closer to the HTML and JS level) than Chrome, which ought to make it more secure.

      Mac OS X Lion also sandboxes most system daemons and provides APIs that help third party developers to sandbox their applications. (See the ArsTechnica review of Lion for more details.)

      In fact, from the 1st June onwards, [i]all software sold via Mac App Store must be sandboxed[/i].

      This technology is all available on the latest iOS update as well.

      Apple ought to find some way of allowing Kaspersky to do virus scans of iOS apps, but not as a performance & battery killing background process on iPhones or iPads.

      The obvious place to implement virus scans is on the iTunes copies of apps, but that clashes with Apple's aim to free iOS devices from all dependencies on Mac or Windows computers.

      Perhaps Apple should allow Kaspersky to scan for viruses [i]only[/i] when the user has been warned that their device will be out of commission for some time and when the device is plugged in - as with iOS updates.
      StandardPerson
    • Thanks,

      I needed a good laugh this morning.
      non-biased
  • Utter nonsense

    So, you expect Apple to let third party software, by the (anti-)virus company Kaspersky, to be able to have access to each and every file on iOS? Just so that malware can be latter written to do the same -- with malicious intent.

    Apple's SDK wouldn't let Kaspersky write (anti-)virus software? Great! By the same measure it doesn't let malicious apps access other apps' code and data on iOS.

    I am dismayed those people expected Apple to be that naive to touch such bait.

    By the way, it seems this is a logical next step after those same companies claimed Apple needs (finally) such software, "because more than 600,000" Macs were infected.

    To those of you who will claim that "Apple needs antivirus software", I will offer this question: if your house has no doors, do you need door locks? Or keys?
    danbi