iOS iBoot Source Code Was Leaked By Former Apple Engineering Intern
Apple keeps an ultra tight grip on iOS and is not keen on sharing its proprietary code. Even so, the company's iBoot source code for iOS 9 was recently leaked to the web, and even though Apple's mobile devices now run on iOS 11, it is very likely that some of the same code has been carried over. At least one security researcher called this the biggest leak in iPhone history, which begs the question, how could something like this happen? The answer may have something to do with peer pressure.
The leak apparently traces back to a former low level Apple employee who worked at the company's headquarters in 2016. Motherboard took at look at text messages and screenshots from two people who received the leaked iBoot source code, and also spoke with a third source who is familiar with how everything went down. The former Apple employee did want to provide any details because he signed a non-disclosure agreement, but the other sources spoke candidly about what happened.
As the story goes, this was not a case of a disgruntled former employee looking to get revenge. Instead, the employee who stole and leaked the code had friends in the jailbreaking community who were encouraging him to do exactly what he did. The employee's friends wanted the source code for their security research, presumably to make jailbreaking the iPhone (and iPad) a bit easier.
Having access to the iBoot code is a big deal. Similar to a BIOS, iBoot is the part of iOS that performs a series of checks and initializations to ensure a trusted boot of the operating system. With that code out in the wild, savvy programmers can more easily look for vulnerabilities, develop exploits, and so forth. It is also a big deal because Apple has a bug bounty program in place that pays up to $200,000 for iBoot vulnerabilities.
The two friends who first received the code never intended for it to be leaked online. But like a secret that spreads from one person to the next and on down the line, so it went with the stolen code until eventually it found its way on GitHub.
"I personally never wanted that code to see the light of day. Not out of greed but because of fear of the legal firestorm that would ensue," said one of the friends who originally received the code. "The Apple internal community is really full of curious kids and teens. I knew one day that if those kids got it they’d be dumb enough to push it to GitHub."
It ended up in the wrong hands, so to speak, and from there bits and pieces were shared in a Discord group of jailbreakers. As it spread, it became too big of a secret with too many people having access. A current Apple employee claims the company knew of the leak before it was posted to GitHub, but did not say when exactly Apple found out about it.