Masque Attack: All Your iOS Apps Belong to Us

In July 2014, FireEye mobile security researchers have discovered that an iOS app installed using enterprise/ad-hoc provisioning could replace another genuine app installed through the App Store, as long as both apps used the same bundle identifier. This in-house app may display an arbitrary title (like “New Flappy Bird”) that lures the user to install it, but the app can replace another genuine app after installation. All apps can be replaced except iOS preinstalled apps, such as Mobile Safari. This vulnerability exists because iOS doesn't enforce matching certificates for apps with the same bundle identifier. We verified this vulnerability on iOS 7.1.1, 7.1.2, 8.0, 8.1 and 8.1.1 beta, for both jailbroken and non-jailbroken devices. An attacker can leverage this vulnerability both through wireless networks and USB. We named this attack “Masque Attack," and have created a demo video here:

We have notified Apple about this vulnerability on July 26. Recently Claud Xiao discovered the “WireLurker” malware. After looking into WireLurker, we found that it started to utilize a limited form of Masque Attacks to attack iOS devices through USB. Masque Attacks can pose much bigger threats than WireLurker. Masque Attacks can replace authentic apps,such as banking and email apps, using attacker's malware through the Internet. That means the attacker can steal user's banking credentials by replacing an authentic banking app with an malware that has identical UI. Surprisingly, the malware can even access the original app's local data, which wasn't removed when the original app was replaced. These data may contain cached emails, or even login-tokens which the malware can use to log into the user's account directly.

We have seen proofs that this issue started to circulate. In this situation, we consider it urgent to let the public know, since there could be existing attacks that haven’t been found by security vendors. We are also sharing mitigation measures to help iOS users better protect themselves.

Security Impacts

By leveraging Masque Attack, an attacker can lure a victim to install an app with a deceiving name crafted by the attacker (like “New Angry Bird”), and the iOS system will use it to replace a legitimate app with the same bundle identifier. Masque Attack couldn't replace Apple's own platform apps such as Mobile Safari, but it can replace apps installed from app store. Masque Attack has severe security consequences:

  1. Attackers could mimic the original app’s login interface to steal the victim’s login credentials. We have confirmed this through multiple email and banking apps, where the malware uses a UI identical to the original app to trick the user into entering real login credentials and upload them to a remote server.
  2. We also found that data under the original app’s directory, such as local data caches, remained in the malware local directory after the original app was replaced. The malware can steal these sensitive data. We have confirmed this attack with email apps where the malware can steal local caches of important emails and upload them to remote server.
  3. The MDM interface couldn’t distinguish the malware from the original app, because they used the same bundle identifier. Currently there is no MDM API to get the certificate information for each app. Thus, it is difficult for MDM to detect such attacks.
  4. As mentioned in our Virus Bulletin 2014 paper “Apple without a shell - iOS under targeted attack”, apps distributed using enterprise provisioning profiles (which we call “EnPublic apps”) aren’t subjected to Apple’s review process. Therefore, the attacker can leverage iOS private APIs for powerful attacks such as background monitoring (CVE-2014-1276) and mimic iCloud’s UI to steal the user’s Apple ID and password.
  5. The attacker can also use Masque Attacks to bypass the normal app sandbox and then get root privileges by attacking known iOS vulnerabilities, such as the ones used by the Pangu team.

An Example

In one of our experiments, we used an in-house app with a bundle identifier “” with a title “New Flappy Bird”. We signed this app using an enterprise certificate. When we installed this app from a website, it replaced the original Gmail app on the phone.


Figure 1

Figure 1 illustrates this process. Figure 1(a) (b) show the genuine Gmail app installed on the device with 22 unread emails. Figure 1(c) shows that the victim was lured to install an in-house app called “New Flappy Bird” from a website. Note that “New Flappy Bird” is the title for this app and the attacker can set it to an arbitrary value when preparing this app. However, this app has a bundle identifier “”.

After the victim clicks “Install”, Figure 1(d) shows the in-house app was replacing the original Gmail app during the installation. Figure 1(e) shows that the original Gmail app was replaced by the in-house app. After installation, when opening the new “Gmail” app, the user will be automatically logged in with almost the same UI except for a small text box at the top saying “yes, you are pwned” which we designed to easily illustrate the attack. Attackers won’t show such courtesy in real world attacks. Meanwhile, the original authentic Gmail app’s local cached emails, which were stored as clear-text in a sqlite3 database as shown in Figure 2, are uploaded to a remote server.

Note that Masque Attack happens completely over the wireless network, without relying on connecting the device to a computer.


Figure 2


iOS users can protect themselves from Masque Attacks by following three steps:

  1. Don’t install apps from third-party sources other than Apple’s official App Store or the user’s own organization
  2. Don’t click “Install” on a pop-up from a third-party web page, as shown in Figure 1(c), no matter what the pop-up says about the app. The pop-up can show attractive app titles crafted by the attacker
  3. When opening an app, if iOS shows an alert with “Untrusted App Developer”, as shown in Figure 3, click on “Don’t Trust” and uninstall the app immediately


Figure 3

To check whether there are apps already installed through Masque Attacks, iOS 7 users can check the enterprise provisioning profiles installed on their iOS devices, which indicate the signing identities of possible malware delivered by Masque Attacks, by checking “Settings - > General -> Profiles” for “PROVISIONING PROFILES”. iOS 7 users can report suspicious provisioning profiles to their security department. Deleting a provisioning profile will prevent enterprise signed apps which rely on that specific profile from running. However, iOS 8 devices don’t show provisioning profiles already installed on the devices and we suggest taking extra caution when installing apps.

We disclosed this vulnerability to Apple in July. Because all the existing standard protections or interfaces by Apple cannot prevent such an attack, we are asking Apple to provide more powerful interfaces to professional security vendors to protect enterprise users from these and other advanced attacks.

We thank FireEye team members Noah Johnson and Andrew Osheroff for their help in producing the demo video. We also want to thank Kyrksen Storer and Lynn Thorne for their help improving this blog. Special thanks to Zheng Bu for his valuable comments and feedback.