Well, we didn’t expect this!
Our much-loved iPhone 6+, now nearly eight years old but in pristine, as-new condition until a recent UDI (unintended dismount incident, also known as a bicycle prang, which smashed the screen but left the device working fine otherwise), hasn’t received any security updates from Apple for almost a year.
The last update we received was back on 2021-09-23, when we updated to iOS 12.5.5.
Every subsequent update for iOS and iPadOS 15 has understandably reinforced our assumption that Apple had dropped iOS 12 support for evermore, and so we relegated the old iPhone to background duty, solely as an emergency device for maps or phone calls while on the road.
(We figured that another crash would be unlikely to wreck the screen any further, so it seemed a useful compromise.)
But we’ve just noticed that Apple has decided to update iOS 12 again after all.
This new update applies to the following models: iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, and iPod touch 6th generation. (Before iOS 13.1 and iPadOS 13.1 came out, iPhones and iPads used the same operating system, referred to as iOS for both devices.)
We didn’t receive a Security Advisory email from Apple, but an alert Naked Security reader who knows we still have that old iPhone 6+ let us know about Apple Security Bulletin HT213428. (Thanks!)
Simply put, Apple has published a patch for CVE-2022-32893, which is one of the two mysterious zero-day bugs that received emergency patches on most other Apple platforms earlier in August 2022:
As you will see in the article just above, there was a WebKit remote code execution bug, CVE-2022-32893, by means of which a jailbreaker, a spyware peddler, or some devious cybercriminal could lure you to a booby-trapped website and implant malware on your device, even if all you did was glance at an otherwise innocent-looking page or document.
Then there was a second bug in the kernel, CVE-2022-32894, by which said malware could extend its tentacles beyond the app it just compromised (such as a browser or a document viewer), and get control over the innards of the operating system itself, thus allowing the malware to spy on, modify or even install other apps, bypassing Apple’s much vaunted and notoriously strict security controls.
So, here’s the good news: iOS 12 isn’t vulnerable to the kernel-level zero-day CVE-2022-32894, which almost certainly avoids the risk of total compromise of the operating system itself.
But here’s the bad news: iOS 12 is vulnerable to the WebKit bug CVE-2022-32893, so that individual apps on your phone definitely are at risk of compromise.
We’re guessing that Apple must have come across at least some high-profile (or high-risk, or both) users of older phones who were compromised in this way, and decided to push out protection for everyone as a special precaution.
The danger of WebKit
Remember that WebKit bugs exist, loosely speaking, at the software layer below Safari, so that Apple’s own Safari browser isn’t the only app at risk from this vulnerability.
All browsers on iOS, even Firefox, Edge, Chrome and so on, use WebKit (that’s an Apple requirement if you want your app to make it into the App Store).
And any app that displays web content for purposes other than general browsing, such as in its help pages, its About screen, or even in a built-in “minibrowser”, is also at risk because it will be using WebKit under the covers.
In other words, just “avoiding Safari” and sticking to a third-party browser is not a suitable workaround in this case.
What to do?
We now know that the absence of an update for iOS 12 when the latest emergency patches came out for more recent iPhones was not down to the fact that iOS was already safe.
It was simply down to the fact that an update wasn’t available yet.
So, given that we now know that iOS 12 is at risk, and that exploits against CVE-2022-32893 are being used in real life, and that there is a patch available…
…then it’s an urgent matter of Patch Early/Patch Often!
Go to Settings > General > Software Update, and check that you have iOS 12.5.6.
If you haven’t yet received the update automatically, tap Download and Install to begin the process right away: