Apple is a notoriously secretive and insular organization, a trend that has often put it at odds with the security research community. The company is often unfathomable about the technical details of how its products actually work and its security features. Thus, resource security researchers say they have come to trust the breadcrumbs the most is the company’s annual “Platform Security Guide”, which launched today. It provides the most comprehensive and technical look at Apple’s safeguards to date, including the first documentation from Apple’s new M1 chips.
Apple first offered the guide ten years ago as a very short article at the dawn of the iPhone era. It would later evolve into an “iOS Security Guide” focused exclusively on mobile, before expanding to macOS in 2019. It details security features such as Touch ID and Face ID, Apple’s secure enclave. and secure boot, so that software developers and security researchers can better understand how these features work and interact with each other. Over the years, the company claims to have tried to balance readability for a large audience with utility for those with more technical knowledge. This year, it contains more information than ever on new and old features.
“I am constantly referencing this guide, and have been for years, ”says Sarah Edwards, longtime Apple security researcher. “I use it for all aspects of my research, my daily job, my teaching job, everything. About once a year I sit with him on my iPad and read it page by page to see what I may have missed before or what happens when I see him again after learning something from my research. . “
This year’s edition contains significantly expanded information on hardware such as M1, new details about the secure enclave, and a review of a host of software features.
Researchers and hackers glean a lot through reverse engineering, the process of determining how something is built by looking at the finished product. This “security through obscurity” helps keep attackers at bay to some extent, but by releasing the Platform’s Security Guide, Apple can help customers take advantage of its defensive features while providing benchmarks. to security researchers, in the hope that they can find vulnerabilities before the bad guys do.
“Everything can be retro-designed, it’s a lot of fun at least for me,” says Will Strafach, longtime iOS researcher and creator of the Guardian Firewall app for iOS. “But having an authoritative and detailed document from Apple is helpful because it lets people know the intentions and limitations associated with certain security capabilities. Apple still does a great job with it, even if it doesn’t dive too deep into the weeds. “
Researchers say they still have “wishlist” items they want Apple to include in future guides. Strafach wants to know more about how M1 chips safely handle the booting of other operating systems, always a question for jailbreakers when Apple releases new processors. And he’s curious about Apple’s improvements to iOS 14 that aimed to undo a ubiquitous jailbreak exploit, But can be bypassed at least in some cases.
Researchers each have specific, even esoteric, hopes and dreams of new guides according to their specialties. Patrick Wardle, an independent Apple security researcher, said he hoped to see more details about Apple clean antivirus and malware detection tools, something the company added in today’s report. He is still hoping to have more information on how to more precisely control certain features of macOS.