Threat Research Blog

Three New Masque Attacks against iOS: Demolishing, Breaking and Hijacking

In the recent release of iOS 8.4, Apple fixed several vulnerabilities including vulnerabilities that allow attackers to deploy two new kinds of Masque Attack (CVE-2015-3722/3725, and CVE-2015-3725). We call these exploits Manifest Masque and Extension Masque, which can be used to demolish apps, including system apps (e.g., Apple Watch, Health, Pay and so on), and to break the app data container. In this blog, we also disclose the details of a previously fixed, but undisclosed, masque vulnerability: Plugin Masque, which bypasses iOS entitlement enforcement and hijacks VPN traffic. Our investigation also shows that around one third of iOS devices still have not updated to versions 8.1.3 or above, even 5 months after the release of 8.1.3, and these devices are still vulnerable to all the Masque Attacks.

We have disclosed five kinds of Masque Attacks, as shown in the following table.


Consequences disclosed till now

Mitigation status

App Masque

* Replace an existing app

* Harvest sensitive data

Fixed in iOS 8.1.3 [6]

URL Masque

* Bypass prompt of trust

* Hijack inter-app communication

Partially fixed in iOS 8.1.3 [11]

Manifest Masque

* Demolish other apps (incl. Apple Watch, Health, Pay, etc.) during over-the-air installations

Partially fixed in iOS 8.4

Plugin Masque

* Bypass prompt of trust

* Bypass VPN plugin entitlement

* Replace an existing VPN plugin

* Hijack device traffic

* Prevent device from rebooting

* Exploit more kernel vulnerabilities

Fixed in iOS 8.1.3

Extension Masque

* Access another app’s data

* Or prevent another app to access its own data

Partially fixed in iOS 8.4

Manifest Masque Attack leverages the CVE-2015-3722/3725 vulnerability to demolish an existing app on iOS when a victim installs an in-house iOS app wirelessly using enterprise provisioning from a website. The demolished app (the attack target) can be either a regular app downloaded from official App Store or even an important system app, such as Apple Watch, Apple Pay, App Store, Safari, Settings, etc. This vulnerability affects all iOS 7.x and iOS 8.x versions prior to iOS 8.4. We first notified Apple of this vulnerability in August 2014.

Extension Masque Attack can break the restrictions of app data container. A malicious app extension installed along with an in-house app on iOS 8 can either gain full access to a targeted app’s data container or prevent the targeted app from accessing its own data container. On June 14, security researchers Luyi, Xiaofeng et al. disclosed several severe issues on OS X, including a similar issue with this one [5]. They did remarkable research, but happened to miss this on iOS. Their report claimed: “this security risk is not present on iOS”. However, the data container issue does affect all iOS 8.x versions prior to iOS 8.4, and can be leveraged by an attacker to steal all data in a target app’s data container. We independently discovered this vulnerability on iOS and notified Apple before the report [5] was published, and Apple fixed this issue as part of CVE-2015-3725.

In addition to these two vulnerabilities patched on iOS 8.4, we also disclose the detail of another untrusted code injection attack by replacing the VPN Plugin, the Plugin Masque Attack. We reported this vulnerability to Apple in Nov 2014, and Apple fixed the vulnerability on iOS 8.1.3 when Apple patched the original Masque Attack (App Masque) [6, 11]. However, this exploit is even more severe than the original Masque Attack. The malicious code can be injected to the neagent process and can perform privileged operations, such as monitoring all VPN traffic, without the user’s awareness. We first demonstrated this attack in the Jailbreak Security Summit [7] in April 2015. Here we categorize this attack as Plugin Masque Attack.

We will discuss the technical details and demonstrate these three kinds of Masque Attacks.

Manifest Masque: Putting On the New, Taking Off the Old

To distribute an in-house iOS app with enterprise provisioning wirelessly, one has to publish a web page containing a hyperlink that redirects to a XML manifest file hosted on an https server [1]. The XML manifest file contains metadata of the in-house app, including its bundle identifier, bundle version and the download URL of the .ipa file, as shown in Table 1. When installing the in-house iOS app wirelessly, iOS downloads this manifest file first and parse the metadata for the installation process.

<a href="itms-services://?action=downloadmanifest&url= plist">Install App</a>
















              … Entries For Another App




Table 1. An example of the hyperlink and the manifest file

According to Apple’s official document [1], the bundle-identifier field should be “Your app’s bundle identifier, exactly as specified in your Xcode project”. However, we have discovered that iOS doesn’t verify the consistency between the bundle identifier in the XML manifest file on the website and the bundle identifier within the app itself. If the XML manifest file on the website has a bundle identifier equivalent to that of another genuine app on the device, and the bundle-version in the manifest is higher than the genuine app’s version, the genuine app will be demolished down to a dummy placeholder, whereas the in-house app will still be installed using its built-in bundle id. The dummy placeholder will disappear after the victim restarts the device. Also, as shown in Table 1, a manifest file can contain different apps’ metadata entries to distribute multiple apps at a time, which means this vulnerability can cause multiple apps being demolished with just one click by the victim.

By leveraging this vulnerability, one app developer can install his/her own app and demolish other apps (e.g. a competitor’s app) at the same time. In this way, attackers can perform DoS attacks or phishing attacks on iOS.

Figure 1. Phishing Attack by installing “malicious Chrome” and demolishing the genuine one

Figure 1 shows an example of the phishing attack. When the user clicks a URL in the Gmail app, this URL is rewritten with the “googlechrome-x-callback://” scheme and supposed to be handled by Chrome on the device. However, an attacker can leverage the Manifest Masque vulnerability to demolish the genuine Chrome and install “malicious Chrome” registering the same scheme. Other than requiring the same bundle identifier to replace a genuine app in the original Masque Attack [xx], the malicious chrome in this phishing attack uses a different bundle identifier to bypass the installer’s bundle identifier validation. Later, when the victim clicks a URL in the Gmail app, the malicious Chrome can take over the rewritten URL scheme and perform more sophisticated attacks.

What’s worse, an attacker can also exploit this vulnerability to demolish all system apps (e.g. Apple Watch, Apple Pay UIService, App Store, Safari, Health, InCallService, Settings, etc.). Once demolished, these system apps will no longer be available to the victim, even if the victim restarts the device.

Here we demonstrate this DoS attack on iOS 8.3 to demolish all the system apps and one App Store app (i.e. Gmail) when the victim clicks only once to install an in-house app wirelessly. Note that after rebooting the device, all the system apps still remain demolished while the App Store app would disappear since it has already been uninstalled.

Extension Masque: Breaking The Data Container

Apple introduces the app extension feature [2] on iOS 8. Different types of the app extension provide various new ways for the developer to extend the app’s functionality on iOS 8. For example, the app can appear as a widget on the Today screen, add new buttons in the Action sheet, offer photo filters within the iOS Photos app, or display a new system-wide custom keyboard [3]. In addition, the watch extension [4] on iPhone delegates all logic of a watch app on iOS 8.2/8.3 after the release of Apple Watch. An app extension can execute code and is restricted to access data within its data container. Extensions are distributed as a part of the iOS app, which can be leveraged as potential new attack vectors by attackers.

We independently discovered that the extension within an iOS 8 app could either gain full access to other apps’ data containers or prevent other apps from accessing their own data containers, as long as the extension uses the same bundle identifier as the target app. An attacker can lure a victim to install an in-house app using enterprise provisioning from a website and to enable the malicious extension of the in-house app on his/her device.

The effect of such attack is related to the installation sequence of the malicious extension and the target app. Note that an extension cannot be installed standalone; it must be distributed as a part of an app. So in the following content when we refer to installing an extension we mean installing an app carrying that extension.

  • If installed before the target app, the malicious extension can break the data container and gain full access to the target app's data container without users’ awareness, while the target app would work normally.
  • If the malicious extension is installed after the target app, the target app can no longer access its own data container. Thus the functionality of the target app will be seriously disturbed and the app will even crash (causing denial-of-service). In this circumstance, if the victim tries to reinstall the target app, the target app would recover. But this falls into the prior case again -- the victim app is now installed after the malicious app, so the malicious extension can gain full access to the target app's container.

Here is a demo for breaking the data container attack. In this demo, a malicious extension can access all the files within the Gmail app’s data container and upload them to the attacker’s server.

Plugin Masque: Executing Untrusted Code with Privilege

Apart of the iOS extension, the VPN plugin is another type of bundle in an .ipa file. Compared to iOS extension that can be embedded in any iOS 8 app without any special entitlement, both the VPN app and the VPN plugin need to be provisioned with the “” entitlement to provide system-wide VPN service. So far only in a few exclusive iOS developers can distribute such VPN client (e.g. Cisco Anyconnect, Junos Pulse, OpenVPN etc.) on iOS. After installation, the VPN plugin is loaded without any user interface by a privileged system process, neagent [8].

Figure 2 shows the directory structure of the Junos Pulse .ipa file, the VPN plugin (SSLVPNJuniper.vpnplugin) locates in the Payload directory, along with the ordinary app (Junos providing the user interface to configure the VPN.

Figure 2. Directory Layout of the Junos Pulse App

We discovered that if an in-house app embeds a malicious VPN Plugin that has the same bundle id as the legitimate VPN Plugin on the victim’s iOS, the malicious VPN Plugin can be successfully installed and replace the legitimate one without any special entitlement (e.g. “”).  Later, when the victim launches the ordinary VPN app to access the VPN service, the untrusted code in the malicious VPN Plugin will be loaded by the neagent process and perform privileged operation, such as hijacking/monitoring all the VPN traffic. Injecting code to the neagent process to escape the sandbox is also a critical exploit used in the PanGu 8 [8, 12] jailbreak tool. By leveraging the VPN plugin vulnerability, it is possible to jailbreak an iOS device with 8.1.2 or before over-the-air directly with other kernel exploits.This vulnerability is related to CVE-2014-4493 and was patched in iOS 8.1.3. We first disclose and demonstrate this attack in the Jailbreak Security Summit [7] in April 2015.

This vulnerability is related to CVE-2014-4493 and was patched in iOS 8.1.3. We first disclosed and demonstrated this attack in the Jailbreak Security Summit [7] in April 2015.

Here is a demo for the untrusted code execution attack. In this demo, the in-house app containing a malicious VPN plugin is installed on victim’s device. After the user configures VPN use the original Junos Pulse app, the PoC code of the malicious VPN plugin is loaded and executed by neagent.

    while(1) {

        syslog(LOG_ERR, "[+] ========= ****** PoC DYLIB LOADED ****** ==========");



Table 2. PoC code of the malicious VPN Plugin

Note that successfully launching this attack doesn’t require the user to touch/trust the in-house app. Even if the user force uninstalling the VPN app being attacked, the app will come back again after reboot. That means the user can't uninstall the app easily. Even if the user tries to power off the phone by long-pressing the power button, the neagent daemon running attacker's code will be keep running in the background and stops the device from a real reboot. The phone screen will be totally black and looks like the device is rebooting, however, neagent can keep running with the attacker's code in the background.

iOS Update Gap in Enterprise Networks

The release of iOS 8.1.3 (where App Masque, URL Masque, and Plugin Masque issues were fixed or partially fixed) was in January 2015, and iOS is well known for its fast adoption of new versions. However, our recent monitoring of iOS web traffic in several high-profile networks shows surprising results. As shown in Figure 3, nearly one third of the iOS traffic that we monitored is still from devices with versions below 8.1.3 even 5 months after its release. The devices behind that traffic are still vulnerable to all the Masque Attacks, including the App Masque, URL Masque, and Plugin Masque. We urge everyone, especially enterprise users, to keep up with the latest iOS updates.

Figure 3. iOS version ratios based on network traffic monitored by FireEye


To summarize, although Apple has fixed or partially fixed the original Masque Attack [6, 11] on iOS 8.1.3, there are still other attack surfaces to exploit vulnerabilities in the installation process on iOS. We disclose the details of three variants of Masque Attack in this article to help users realize the risk and better protect themselves. Moreover, around one third of iOS devices that we monitored are still vulnerable to all the Masque Attacks because they have not been upgraded. We suggest that all iOS users keep their devices up-to-date.