Getting access to the inside of an iPhone is not easy. That is, accessing the inside of your operating system and having root privileges, we are not talking about opening an iPhone in pieces. Security experts are always looking for ways to do this, in order to better understand how iOS works and look for security holes to exploit later . And they sometimes do this by using illegally sold iPhone prototypes.
According to an extensive report published by Motherboard, there is a whole hidden market for buying and selling iPhone. Not from the normal iPhones that we can find in a store, but from prototypes that come directly from Apple’s factories and its supply chain. These iPhones are among the most coveted , because as they are not final products, they are not encrypted and secured yet, so you have access with root privileges (do what you want without locking) in the operating system.
According to Motherboard, these prototypes have become a tool that security researchers around the world are looking for:
Why find vulnerabilities, to take advantage of them later. Researchers usually sell this information either to Apple to fix the problem or to third party companies, which usually pay much more than Apple. This is how hackers and ways to unlock an iPhone without knowing the code and with special devices arise later.
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This type of prototype iPhone is often smuggled directly off the Apple assembly line. They are then sold on black markets at much higher prices than we would find in stores. There are models like the iPhone XR that can cost up to $20,000 each. Others have more moderate but equally high prices, around 1,800 dollars.
These phones generally look like normal phones, at most they have some QR code sticker that gives information about the device. However, once they are switched on everything changes, instead of the Apple apple or the operating system itself appearing, a command line appears that allows operation on the phone only by means of a special cable connected to the computer. This cable is also sold in these markets and each one costs around $2,000.
With one of these cables and the iPhone prototype, the security expert has a treasure trove. From there it’s a matter of finding security details to exploit. According to Motherboard, Apple is aware of this market of iPhone prototypes and even though it tries, it can do little to prevent it due to its huge assembly line. The full report is worth a look.