Incident Response, TDR, Vulnerability Management

Researchers claim to remotely ‘brick’ Apple devices with ‘1/1/1970’ bug


Researchers at the network security firm, PacketSled, claimed to have remotely exploited the “1/1/1970” bug that allegedly can “brick” (meaning to overheat and become unusable) iOS devices, claims that Apple has denied.

Researcher Zach Straley posted a video in February which detailed an attack that seemingly bricked devices an iPhone or iPad after he manually set the date back to Jan. 1, 1970.

The vulnerability once existed in iOS versions prior to 9.3.1, said PacketSled researchers Patrick Kelley and Matt Harrigan, but they claim has since been fixed in later versions, according to a video detailing the attack that they posted to YouTube on April 12.

The duo said in the video that they didn't release the vulnerability sooner for public safety reasons.

“Using a custom Raspberry Pi setup built by Kelley, a wifi access point resembling a commonly trusted network spoofs Apple's NTP servers to pass the 1/1/1970 date to the device,” the researchers said in an April 12 blog post.

The duo claimed the attack started a chain reaction of software instability that caused the device to heat to temperatures as high as 54 degrees Celsius or 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit.  

The exploit only required $120 worth of electronics - not including the price of the iOS device - and a basic understanding of networking and how Apple devices connect to wireless networks, the researchers said.

A source at Apple, who requested anonymity, refuted those claims and told via emailed comments that a vulnerability that could shut down a device did exist at one point, though it didn't render devices unusable.

"My understanding is that while it was able to shut down the device, we were able to easily restore the device to its functioning state, so claims that it was bricked or unusable aren't true," the source said, adding that the bug was patched in iOS 9.3, not 9.3.1.

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