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Apple iOS and iPadOS VPN Bypass Vulnerability

A vulnerability has been discovered in Apple iOS and iPadOS where VPN (virtual private networking) can be bypassed, thereby not securing all traffic within the secure VPN tunnel.

Normally, when a VPN tunnel is established, the VPN software closes existing connections and re-establishes them within the secure VPN tunnel. In the VPN component of Apple iOS 13.3.1, it has been confirmed that existing connections are not properly closed, leading to data traffic that is not as secure as expected.

This vulnerability was first discovered by the Swiss company ProtonVPN. It has since been validated that the vulnerability exists in iOS versions 13.3.1 and the latest 13.4. iPadOS is similarly affected by this vulnerability.

ProtonVPN utilized WireShark’s packet sniffer to verify the vulnerability in the data packets sent and received by the iOS device.

Source: "VPN bypass vulnerability in Apple iOS," ProtonVPN, March 2020

ProtonVPN provided users a method to mitigate the risk; activating and deactivating Airplane Mode once a VPN connection has been established.This will disconnect all existing connections (both secured within the VPN tunnel and outside the tunnel), and then reconnect them properly within the secure VPN tunnel.

Our Take

As iOS devices have established a foothold in business use, the danger of data leakage becomes greater if these devices have been secured by the organization’s VPN service. That said, mobile devices still tend to be considered insecure, and as such, IT departments continue to emphasize the importance of appropriate mobile device security standards to their organizations’ employee bases.

Apple’s iPad Pro devices, which run iPadOS, may be of concern as many organizations leverage iPad Pros as laptop replacements for mobile computing. As a result, it is likely that sensitive or confidential work regularly takes place on these devices, in contrast with the type of work conducted on iOS devices.

Until Apple addresses this vulnerability, we recommend users follow the mitigation actions provided by ProtonVPN.

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