The Wi-Fi hotspot that could destroy an Apple iPhone’s wireless connectivity can also hack the phone: ‘WiFiDemon’ is a zero-click security vulnerability

Apple iPhone WiFi Hotspot Security Vulnerability
A simple WiFi is a security risk to an iPhone? Pic credit: iphonedigital/Flickr

An open Wi-Fi hotspot that could completely break an Apple iPhone’s wireless connectivity is also a serious security threat. It seems the Wi-Fi network name bug, dubbed ‘WiFiDemon’ can infect an iPhone with no user interaction.

Researchers recently discovered a simple and seemingly innocuous Wi-Fi hotspot can render any Apple iPhone unable to establish a wireless internet connection. It so happens, the bug is also a vulnerability allowing a “Zero-Click” attack on an iPhone.

A Wi-Fi hotspot that renders iPhone wireless connectivity broken is also a security threat:

Last month, security researchers discovered a Wi-Fi hotspot with ‘%’ in its name, can completely disable an iPhone’s Wi-Fi. None of the standard remedial actions work, forcing the victim to reset the Network Settings to regain wireless connectivity.

Affected iPhone users who inadvertently latched on the mischievous Wi-Fi hotspot, had to go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings > Confirm. This was the only method to restore Wi-Fi.

There is a huge downside to resetting the network settings. An iPhone user obliterates all previously saved Wi-Fi hotspots (SSID and passwords).

Some security researchers claimed the “denial-of-service” bug stemmed from the way iOS handled string formats associated with the SSID input.

Wi-Fi bug denial-of-service can help execute an attack on an iPhone with no user or victim interaction:

It just so happens, the Wi-Fi hotspot not only was mischievous but also held a sinister purpose. Researchers from mobile security automation firm ZecOps have discovered that hackers can exploit the bug.

Simply by attaching the string pattern “%@” to the Wi-Fi hotspot’s name, hackers could infect an iPhone, claimed ZecOps researchers.

“It’s also a zero-click vulnerability in that it allows the threat actor to infect a device without requiring any user interaction. Although it requires that the setting to automatically join Wi-Fi networks is enabled (which it is, by default).”

“As long as the Wi-Fi is turned on this vulnerability can be triggered. If the user is connected to an existing Wi-Fi network, an attacker can launch another attack to disconnect/de-associate the device and then launch this zero-click attack.”

“This zero-click vulnerability is powerful. if the malicious access point has password protection and the user never joins the Wi-Fi, nothing will be saved to the disk. After turning off the malicious access point, the user’s Wi-Fi function will be normal. A user could hardly notice if they have been attacked.”

Concerningly, all iOS versions starting with iOS 14.0 and prior to iOS 14.3 are vulnerable. Interestingly, Apple Inc. is aware of the Wi-Fi hotspot bug and has patched the issue in January 2021 as part of its iOS 14.4 update.

What’s equally concerning is that Apple reportedly chose not to publicly tag and trace the security vulnerability in its iPhone lineup with a CVE identifier. This suggests the company not only withheld information, but it also kept its iPhone users in the dark about a security bug.

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