Apple is one notoriously close-knit and isolated organization, a tendency that has often put it at odds with the security research community. The company is usually kept secret with the technical details of how the products and safety features work. So the resource that security researchers say they have come to rely on the most for breadcrumbs is Apple’s annual Platform Security Guide, which the new edition launched today. It provides the most comprehensive and technical look at Apple’s protection yet – including the first documentation of Apple’s new M1 chips.
Apple first offered the guide ten years ago as a very short writing at the beginning of the iPhone era. Later, it will evolve into an “iOS security guide”
“I am ever with reference to that guide, and has been for years, ”says Sarah Edwards, a longtime security researcher at Apple. “I use it for all aspects of my research, my daily work, my teaching job, everything. About once a year or so I sit down with it on the iPad and read it page by page to see what I may have missed before, or what happens to “clicking” when I go through it again after have learned something through my research.
This year’s edition contains significantly expanded information about hardware such as the M1, new details about the secure enclave and accounts for a number of software functions.
Scientists and hackers capture a lot through reverse engineering, the process of determining how something is built by examining the finished product. That “security through obscurity” helps keep attackers in check to a degree, but by releasing the platform security guide, Apple can help its customers take advantage of its defensive features, while providing guidance to security researchers, in the hope that they can Find vulnerabilities before the villains do.
“Everything can be constructed in reverse. It’s a lot of fun, at least for me, says Will Strafach, a longtime iOS researcher and creator of the Guardian Firewall app for iOS. “But having a detailed and well-detailed authoritative document from Apple is useful, as it lets people know the intentions and limitations associated with certain security options. Apple always does a good job with it, even if it does not dive too deep into the weeds. “
Researchers say they always have some “wish list” items that they want Apple to include in future guides. Strafach wants to know more about how M1 chips handle the startup of other operating systems, always a question for jailbreakers when Apple releases new processors. And he’s curious about Apple’s iOS 14 enhancements that were meant to undo a ubiquitous jailbreak exploit, but which in some cases can be circumvented.
Researchers have specific, even esoteric hopes and dreams of new guides based on their specialties. Patrick Wardle, an independent security researcher from Apple, said he hoped to see more details about Apple’s own antivirus and malware detection tools, something the company added in today’s report. He still hopes to gain more insight into how to control some macOS features in more detail.