Wednesday, 20 June 2018
News Tech

Apple’s top-secret iBoot firmware source code spills onto GitHub for some insane reason

If you want a crash course in learning Arm code, now’s your – hm, maybe not

Screenshot of the leaked code … Hands off, says Apple

The confidential source code to Apple’s iBoot firmware in iPhones, iPads and other iOS devices has been leaked into a public GitHub repo.

The closed-source code is top-secret, proprietary, copyright Apple, and yet has been quietly doing the rounds between security researchers and device jailbreakers on Reddit for four or so months now. Where exactly it came from, no one is sure for now.

Crucially, within the past day or so, someone decided to dump a copy of this secret sauce on popular developer hangout GitHub for all to find. Links to the files began circulating on Twitter.

The source was taken down following a DMCA complaint by Apple, which means the code must be legit or else Cupertino would have no grounds to strip it from the website. However, at least one clone of the software blueprints have emerged on GitHub, meaning you can find it you look hard enough.

We’re not going to link to it. Also, downloading it is not recommended. Just remember what happened when people shared the stolen Microsoft Windows 2000 source code back in the day.

According to those who have looked through the leaked iBoot source, the blueprints look legit. They include low-level system code written in 32 and 64-bit Arm assembly, drivers, internal documentation, operating system utilities, build tools, and more. Every file of the code is marked “this document is the property of Apple Inc,” and: “It is considered confidential and proprietary. This document may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form, in whole or in part, without the express written permission of Apple Inc.”

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iBoot is a second-stage bootloader that’s responsible for running iOS’s Recovery Mode. It runs on-screen, or over a physical USB or serial interface. When not in the recovery position, it verifies that a legit build of iOS is present, and if so, it starts up the software when the iThing is powered on or rebooted. The bootloader is highly protected, is stored in an encrypted form on devices, and is key to maintaining the integrity of the operating system.

It can be abused to jailbreak iOS devices to install unofficial customizations and applications. Releasing the source code does not put people directly at risk – it simply makes it easier for folks to find exploitable bugs, and leverage them to hijack iBoot and jailbreak iThings.

Specifically, it’s the source code to iOS 9’s iBoot, which was first released in 2015, although some of the files have a 2016 date in them. How this affects today’s devices running the latest software is unclear – some parts of the code may linger on in iOS 11.

For now, don’t panic. No one’s going to hack your iPhone or iPad over the air or via a webpage from this leak. It’s useful for the tight-knit crowd of eggheads who like rummaging through firmware code looking for holes to exploit to jailbreak devices. Apple has stepped up its security, with its secure coprocessors and other measures, to thwart jailbreaks. Perhaps now they’ll be able to find new ways to customize their iGear, now the blueprints are sitting on the internet in plain sight.

So, instead, just sit back and marvel at how Apple somehow managed to lose control of such a central critical component of its software stack. And wonder what else has leaked from Cupertino’s highly secretive idiot-tax operations.

Apple could not be reached for immediate comment. ®

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