According to sources with access to the developer beta of iOS 6, the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system will allow users to download and install free apps without requiring a password. If Apple doesn’t fix that before iOS 6 is officially launched, it will significantly impair the security of iOS devices.
iOS has established a reputation as the more secure mobile platform. The walled garden of the Apple App Store, and the scrutiny apps must go through before they’re available provide additional layers of defense lacking in other mobile operating systems.
In this case, though, Apple seems to be choosing functionality and expediency over security. It’s a decision that could come back to haunt Apple, and all iOS users.
Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, does not approve. “The decision to remove password authentication from free app downloads is just another example of Apple making consumers responsible for their own security, and that’s always risky at best.”
My iPhone and iPad both have passcode protection implemented (as your iOS devices should as well). But, if I do happen to leave my iOS device open, or let someone borrow it for some reason, I can at least rest assured that nobody can install any apps on it without my knowledge because doing so requires my Apple ID password.
Generally speaking, the most I really have to worry about is that one of my kids might fill up my iPhone or iPad with a bunch of silly free games. However, the potential exists for much more nefarious activity. For example, someone with access to your device--a jealous lover or stalker--could install a free app like Finder+ that would let him or her monitor and track your whereabouts.
Granted, the app won’t be invisible. You should be able to see the apps that are installed on your device. It is possible, though, for someone to bury the app in a folder where you won’t easily spot it, and might not stumble on it for a while.
It also opens the door to more insidious phishing and smishing attacks against iOS devices. An attacker can email or text a link that leads to a malicious app, and as long as its free it might be possible to install that app without your knowledge or approval.
Storms explains, “This decision erodes authentication and authorization safe guards. It makes it even easier for users to download apps that will exfiltrate their personal data.”