Apple has a well-earned reputation for security, but in recent years its Safari browser has had its share of missteps. This week, a security researcher publicly shared new findings about vulnerabilities that would have allowed an attacker to exploit three Safari bugs in succession and take over a target's webcam and microphone on iOS and macOS devices.
Apple patched the vulnerabilities in January and March updates. But before the fixes, all a victim would have needed to do is click one malicious link and an attacker would have been able to spy on them remotely.
"Safari encourages users to save their preferences for site permissions, like whether to trust Skype with microphone and camera access," says Ryan Pickren, the security researcher who disclosed the vulnerabilities to Apple. "So what an attacker could do with this kill chain is make a malicious website that from Safari’s perspective could then turn into 'Skype'. And then the malicious site will have all the permissions that you previously granted to Skype, which means an attacker could just start taking pictures of you or turn on your microphone or even screen-share."
The bugs Pickren found all stem from seemingly minor oversights. For example, he discovered that Safari's list of the permissions a user has granted to websites treated all sorts of URL variations as being part of the same site, like https://www.example.com, http://example.com, and fake://example.com. By "wiggling around," as Pickren puts it, he was able to generate specially crafted URLs that could work with scripts embedded in a malicious site to launch the bait-and-switch that would trick Safari.