The six researchers say they informed Apple of the problem six months ago and are releasing the information now because no fix has been forthcoming despite promises from the company and at least some contact during that time. It is extremely likely that attackers will jump at the opportunity to use this information to craft deadly and undetectable new ways of stealing passwords and other sensitive data.
As reported by The Register, the team was able to demonstrate working attacks that involved submitting apps to the Apple App Store, in which code designed to exploit the weakness was not detected. They were then able to steal passwords including those to email accounts.
According to the team, 1,612 popular apps were tested and 88.6 percent of them were found to be vulnerable to XARA attacks. Google Chrome, Facebook, WeChat and Evernote were amongst the popular apps specifically named by the team, to which they were able to gain access because of insecure cross-app sharing mechanisms. Even banking sites visited from within Chrome could be broken into once credentials were stolen.
Details are available in the paper titled Unauthorized Cross-App Resource Access on Mac OS X and iOS, which has been published online for anyone to see.Videos demonstrating potential attacks have also been uploaded to YouTube. According to the team, Apple had asked for six months' time to issue a fix, but despite there being some evidence that the company has been tweaking its security mechanisms, there has been no concrete solution. App developers will also have to make sure they are using best practices in order to keep users safe.
Apple is widely known for restricting apps on its platforms, especially the way they communicate with each other, in order to make sure there are secure barriers between them. Some of the flaws collectively being referred to as XARA also affect other platforms, particularly those on which URL schemes and HTML5 WebSockets are used to pass information between apps.