Shortcut to Fear

     Siri sets alarms, calls your mother, and finds you that piece of trivia that’s been itching in your brain for the past week. Siri helps people manage their electronic fears and control their digital world in a human way. So when Siri Shortcuts came along with iOS 12, I’m sure many people were elated at the thought of automating their daily ritual and streamlining repeated complex tasks. 

    While it’s doubtful that most users will automate their household energy consumption or repeatedly perform multi step computations via voice command, the average user might be interested in shortcuts designed by business owners trying to make it smoother to exchange money for services and goods. Also, it just feels a bit cool to do many things with just a click. However, with automation and complexity there’s always an avenue for abuse. Security Intelligence from IBM has outlined a few methods for a pseudo ransom attack involving many of the capabilities of Siri Shortcut.

    The app has the ability to perform many of the phone’s basic functions which can be used to confuse then scare a user into paying a ransom to the attacker. Some of Siri Shortcuts’ capabilities include text to speech, flash light control, vibration control, volume and brightness control, clipboard data collection, data storage manipulation, IP address collection, GPS location information collection, and other forms of information collection.

   The most alarming capability is message creation and deployment along with contact list access. A maliciously crafted shortcut could send a copy of itself to each person in the victim’s contact list. It has been advised time and again to never download anything from an untrusted source, but who would think your grandson would send you anything malicious? Suddenly you’re at an ATM, your phone is vibrating and flashing, it snaps a picture of your face and your bank card, and tells you that you’re being tracked repeating your location and reading your browsing history. Even the most cool-headed person would be shaken and might fall for  the ruse. And if you’re savvy enough to remain composed and ignore it, a co-worker or a cousin might not be.

   A pound of cure is worth an ounce of prevention. Never install shortcuts from untrusted sources. Never allow anything to exist on your phone that requires permissions outside your comfort zone. Take advantage of the “Show Actions” button to see what a shortcut actually does before using it. Constant vigilance when it comes to anything that can run without your direct control is the minimum in this day and age.

 • -ibm