An unnamed iOS researcher that goes by the Twitter handle @axi0mX has released a new iOS exploit, checkm8 that affects all iOS devices running on A5 to A11 chipsets. This exploit explores vulnerabilities in Apple’s bootroom (secure boot ROM) which can give phone owners and hackers deep level access to their iOS devices. Once a hacker jailbreaks, Apple would be unable to block or patch out with a future software update.
This iOS exploit can lead to a permanent, unblockable jailbreak on iPhones. Jailbreaking can allow hackers to get root access, enabling them to install software that is unavailable in the Apple App Store, run unsigned code, read and write to the root filesystem, and more.
HACKED! Verbose booting iPhone X looks pretty cool. Starting in DFU Mode, it took 2 seconds to jailbreak it with checkm8, and then I made it automatically boot from NAND with patches for verbose boot. Latest iOS 13.1.1, and no need to upload any images. Thanks @qwertyoruiopz pic.twitter.com/4fyOx3G7E0
— axi0mX (@axi0mX) September 29, 2019
The researcher considers checkm8 possibly the biggest news in the iOS jailbreak community in years. This is because Bootrom jailbreaks are mostly permanent and cannot be patched. To fix it, you would need to apply physical modifications to device chipsets. This can only happen with callbacks or mass replacements. It is also the first bootrom-level exploit publicly released for an iOS device since the iPhone 4, which was released almost a decade ago.
axi0mX had also released another jailbreak-enabling exploit called alloc8 that was released in 2017. alloc8 exploits a powerful vulnerability in function malloc in the bootrom applicable to iPhone 3GS devices. However, checkm8 impacts devices starting with an iPhone 4S (A5 chip) through the iPhone 8 and iPhone X (A11 chip). The only exception being A12 processors that come in iPhone XS / XR and 11 / 11 Pro devices, for which Apple has patched the flaw. The full jailbreak with Cydia on latest iOS version is possible, but requires additional work.
Explaining the reason behind this iOS exploit to be made public, @axi0mX said “a bootrom exploit for older devices makes iOS better for everyone. Jailbreakers and tweak developers will be able to jailbreak their phones on latest version, and they will not need to stay on older iOS versions waiting for a jailbreak. They will be safer.” The researcher adds, “I am releasing my exploit for free for the benefit of iOS jailbreak and security research community. Researchers and developers can use it to dump SecureROM, decrypt keybags with AES engine, and demote the device to enable JTAG. You still need additional hardware and software to use JTAG.”
For now, the checkm8 exploit is released in beta and there is no actual jailbreak yet. You can’t simply download a tool, crack your device, and start downloading apps and modifications to iOS. Axi0mX’s jailbreak is available on GitHub. The code isn’t recommended for users without proper technical skills as it could easily result in bricked devices. Nonetheless, it is still an unpatchable issue and poses security risks for iOS users.
Apple has not yet acknowledged the checkm8 iOS exploit.
A number of people tweeted about this iOS exploit and tried it.
Dumped the SecureROM (BootROM) of iPod Touch 7 (2019) running iOS 13.1 with checkm8. Working on a CFW as we speak. pic.twitter.com/jM6SCmUH9y
— GeoSn0w (@FCE365) September 27, 2019
Amazing~! No need to use a private JB to get a 0-day research environment now~! We can have a JB environment on the latest iOS version with checkm8. It will help researchers to test and find kernel bugs for untethered jailbreak. https://t.co/hSfGQr3Etx
— Min(Spark) Zheng (@SparkZheng) September 30, 2019
The jailbreaking exploit released Friday prompted lots of security concerns. But it turns out it's not remotely exploitable, doesn't have persistence, and can't bypass the Secure Enclave. That's not to say Checkm8 isn't impressive and important. Read on for why. https://t.co/kEyddP5PgZ
— Dan Goodin (@dangoodin001) September 28, 2019
The past year saw a number of iOS exploits. Last month, Apple has accidentally reintroduced a bug in iOS 12.4 that was patched in iOS 12.3. A security researcher, who goes by the name Pwn20wnd on Twitter, released unc0ver v3.5.2, a jailbreaking tool that can jailbreak A7-A11 devices. In July, two members of the Google Project Zero team revealed about six “interactionless” security bugs that can affect iOS by exploiting the iMessage Client. Four of these bugs can execute malicious code on a remote iOS device, without any prior user interaction.