Apple is going to announce the new program at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, which kicked off earlier this week and is continuing until Thursday.
The “special” iPhones will be similar to “dev devices,” aka iPhones that are not as locked down and that will better allow security researchers to locate bugs.
What makes these iPhones special? One source with knowledge of the Apple announcement said they would essentially be “dev devices.” Think of them as iPhones that allow the user to do a lot more than they could on a traditionally locked-down iPhone. For instance, it should be possible to probe pieces of the Apple operating system that aren’t easily accessible on a commercial iPhone. In particular, the special devices could allow hackers to stop the processor and inspect memory for vulnerabilities. This would allow them to see what happens at the code level when they attempt an attack on iOS code.
The iPhones won’t be identical to the developer iPhones that are provided to Apple’s internal staff, as they won’t be as open. They are described as “lite” versions of the developer devices by Forbes, with security researchers unlikely to be able to decrypt the iPhone’s firmware.
iPhone prototypes created for Apple’s internal staff are popular with security researchers and hackers and can fetch quite a lot of money, as noted in a report earlier this year from Motherboard. Described as “pre-jailbroken devices,” the iPhones are valuable because they can be used to find vulnerabilities both by those who have good intentions and those who have bad intentions.
Releasing a similar device to security researchers who participate in the bug bounty program will perhaps allow Apple to better locate serious bugs, leading to faster fixes.
Apple is also planning to announce a new macOS bounty program, which will provide rewards to people who find and report security vulnerabilities in macOS.
Apple’s announcements could perhaps come on Thursday, which is when Ivan KrstiÄ‡, Apple’s head of security engineering, is set to offer a “Behind the Scenes” look at iOS and macOS.