Starting today, Apple will give unique “hacker-friendly” iPhones to security researchers so they can find vulnerabilities and bugs in the software with ease.
Over the years, Apple has maintained the image of having one of the most secure operating systems. It was made possible by locking down the software. While it kept hackers in check, it also made it impossible for security researchers to find the root cause of any problem that surfaced.
However, Apple is now embracing security researchers and bug bounty hunters with open arms by loaning them “Security Research Device (SRD)” iPhones. These special iPhones will offer root shell access and allow researchers to run custom commands, things that are not available on iPhones sold to the general public.
While this sounds exciting, especially for security researchers, there is more to the picture than what meets the eye. Since it’s a special iPhone, there are special rules and regulations around it.
First up, Apple says the iPhone must always be at “on the premises of program participants.” In other words, researchers cannot use it as their personal phone or carry it around.
Next, a security researcher with SRD cannot disclose vulnerabilities to the public until it has been reported and fixed by Apple or “the appropriate third party.” SRD iPhone owners will also have a dedicated forum with Apple engineers and access to extensive documentation.
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Even if a security researcher agrees to all this, there is no guarantee that s/he will get the special iPhone since they are in a limited number and the eligibility criteria, not to mention.
According to Apple, the researcher needs to be part of the Apple Developer Program and have a record of finding vulnerabilities in operating systems. The person should also be based in an eligible country.
While Apple has eased up on security restrictions, it says the iPhones don’t pose a threat to OS security even if they get lost or stolen. That being said, this is the first time Apple has done something like this. Only time will tell how dangerous these iPhones would become if they get into the wrong hands.