The firmware of the secure enclave of iOS devices has been decrypted, what does this mean for users?


Yesterday there was a very alarming news for iOS users. A user named “[xerub]” had managed to decrypt the firmware of SEP, the security system of iOS devices with Touch ID. Did this mean that our passwords were uncovered from now on? It is not entirely true.

To put things in context, iOS devices from the iPhone 5s have a secure enclave processor called SEP. This processor has its own chips and its own operating system and is responsible for performing all the security actions of the phone.

In this way, everything that has to do with the privacy of the user must go through SEP. It is a door that monitors private data that is transferred between user and processor of the device. It is the system that authenticates our fingerprint and checks that it matches the data stored in it.

Firmware is not the same as SEP content

As they explain in Hackday, what has been achieved [xerub] is not accessing the data stored by this secure enclave, but the firmware that makes it work. To understand it easier, let’s say that the SEP is a computer, because [xerub] has managed to see how the computer’s operating system works, but not what the computer stores.

What does this mean for the user? First of all, we can be calm, because we have not managed to access the data stored in the SEP of any device. However, it is true that now developers/hackers can more easily access the system to detect any possible vulnerability. Security experts basically now have it easier to find any hole through which to access the data.

What will happen now? In principle, Apple can update the SEP firmware to change the data of this and make it inaccessible again. Not very well known yet if it affects all devices with Touch ID and Face ID (which also have a SEP) or only those with Touch ID. It will be a matter of time and wait to see how Apple acts, but at the moment there is no need to worry, as users.

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