Category: iOS

Testing with the Extended Status Bar

iOS Simulator comes with a number of debug options to assist you in testing your iPhone and iPad apps. Two of of my favorite and most used options are found near the bottom of iOS Simulator’s Hardware menu: Simulate Memory Warning and Toggle In-Call Status Bar. We haven’t yet covered the in-call status bar and it’s often and overlooked and under-tested scenario that deserves some attention.

Toggle In-Call Status Bar simply enables the double-height status bar that users would normally see when they are on a call outside of the phone app. The extended status bar also appears with other background processes like tethering, voice recordings, Garage Band recordings, and Skype calls, among others. Because of the increasing number of apps that will cause this extended status bar to appear, it’s becoming more and more likely that your users will be using your app in such a scenario, and therefore increasingly important that you test for such scenarios.

There are a few different scenarios for testing the extended status bar in each view: turning on the extended status bar while you’re in a view, turning it on prior to going into a view, disabling it while you’re in a view, and disabling it while you’re out of a view. Just because a view handles one of these properly doesn’t mean it will look good in all of these scenarios. Getting familiar with the ⌘-Y shortcut to enable and disable the extended status bar will help this testing go pretty quickly.

For most apps the main thing to look for when enabling the extended status bar is checking to make sure you can still scroll to the bottom of the view and nothing is being cut off. Another bug that commonly manifests is having a blank area at the top or bottom of the view that shows up when turning off the extended status bar. While many users may never even encounter these scenarios while using your app, those who do will appreciate your attention to detail if you handle these scenarios properly. Even if they don’t notice, at least they won’t be leaving you a one star review for bugs like having the back button half covered by the status bar.

The Real Value of Panic’s Status Board

Today Panic announced the release of their new iPad app, Status Board. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend some time with it before its release and I can confirm what most of you probably already anticipate; it’s a phenomenal app. I’ll spare you another review, because there are already great ones to be read elsewhere. But there are a couple of features in Status Board that I wanted to talk about. Ones that I think have a tremendous amount of value and potential.

The first feature that I’m really excited about is HockeyApp integration. One of the widgets available in Status Board is a custom graph. HockeyApp has made it incredibly simple to pass URLs from Hockey to Status Board which will feed your widget the data necessary to chart a graph of your crash numbers. You can fit up to 6 different graphs comfortably in Status Board’s landscape orientation, and up to 8 in portrait. I’m hopeful that daily crash numbers are just the beginning. The HockeyApp API offers a lot of useful data, and the data you can graph in Status Board is really only limited by what people decide to make scripts for. This leads me to the second thing that I’m excited about.


Status Board also has widgets for custom tables and do-it-yourself panels. Combined with the custom graph widget, there are countless possibilities for the data and information to be displayed in Status Board. I have a suspicion (or possibly more of a hope) that a lot of users will quickly see different scenarios and opportunities to create scripts that will populate interesting and useful data for various widgets. Maybe the number of builds they have each day, or GitHub pushes, or Pivotal velocity, or bugs closed in Lighthouse. The list goes on and on. I’ve already seen a number of people on Twitter getting excited just thinking about the possibilities. As developers create tools to generate data for their own widgets, I hope they’ll be kind enough to share them with others. Before long we may have a laundry list of tools that you can use to create entertaining and helpful widgets for your status board.

So with that, I encourage you to go check out Status Board if you haven’t already, and get cracking on one of the first must-have dataset generators for Status Board.

Update: Chris Patterson has already gotten the ball rolling over here.

Goalie: The Native iPhone HockeyApp Client

Wonderful news in the HockeyApp community today. Brian Gilham and Mark Pavlidis have released their native HockeyApp client for iOS: Goalie. HockeyApp is a platform for managing your apps. It offers everything from beta management to crash reporting and has become an indispensable tool for many developers and testers in the iOS community (and elsewhere) including myself. If you haven’t checked HockeyApp out yet, you should.

HockeyApp offers a web clip (a web page with an icon on your home screen), but the functionality is pretty limited. Goalie is the first native iOS client for HockeyApp. For testers it offers similar functionality to the web clip, allowing you to install your available apps. For developers it offers many more features for managing betas including viewing crash reports, handling user feedback, adding new apps, viewing analytics and managing your teams.

While the app is free, you’ll want to buy the in-app purchase to unlock all of the features for managing betas; it’s well worth the price. For anybody who uses HockeyApp on any sort of regular basis, this is a must-have app.

iTunes Link

The Truth About Apple’s “Limit Ad Tracking” Feature

Discussions have been taking place for a long time about Apple’s deprecation of UDIDs, what options developers have for replacing their use, and what it means for user privacy. Since Apple has now officially announced that developers can no longer use UDIDs as of May 1st, it seemed worth taking a closer look. What I found when looking into Advertising IDs, identifiers for vendors (IDFVs), and the “Limit Ad Tracking” feature that Apple added in iOS 6 was a lot of confusion and misinformation about how all of these things worked. To try and bring some clarity to the issue, I decided to do a detailed write-up on Double Encore’s website. The explanation is geared more toward end users, but I think even more technical folks may gain some insight from it.

Huge thanks to Doug Russell for the sample app he provided that let me explore how Advertising IDs and IDFVs work.

Trusting the Client

A lesson learned a long time ago in the world of desktop computing is that a server can’t trust what a client tells it. If a user goes to log in to your server, your server checks it, you would never leave it up to the client-side application to tell you the user is authenticated because you wouldn’t know if it’s telling the truth. You have control over your server and how it behaves, which is why it should be left in charge of making important decisions, and providing the client with just enough data to execute on those decisions.

This lesson is still being learned in the mobile world. One of the latest examples is Simple Bracket; a very nicely designed iOS app for choosing your March Madness bracket. When playing around with Simple Bracket, a couple of things jumped out at me. The first is if you sniff the app’s traffic, you can see that when searching for Pools, the server responds with a data for a list of matching pools, including their PIN. This seems to allow the app to quickly, and cleanly either accept or reject your PIN when you try to join a pool. The obvious downside to the client side checking here, is anybody can see the PIN for any pool, rendering the PIN completely useless.

The second thing I noticed is the way Simple Bracket determines when it should show certain data. Currently if you go to view another user, the app tells you that you won’t be able to see their bracket until March 21st, when March Madness begins and brackets are locked. This data is kept private from other users so that nobody can copy somebody else’s bracket. Normally in a situation like this, you would want to have the server be the one to determine when this data should be displayed, and not make the data available to the client until that time. In Simple Bracket they decided to let the client determine when to show this data and the server seems to happily provide it to the client. As such, by simply changing your device’s date to March 21, 2013, you can see anybody’s current bracket.

This is just one more example in a trend we see where many developers view iOS as a closed system that they can trust, and it’s not. As mobile platforms mature and develop, we should be cautious to not repeat the same mistakes that were already made on other platforms. There’s no need to repeat these mistakes and endure the same pain and consequences rather than learning and growing from the past.

Award for most ironic Appy Award goes to Fandango

Congratulations to all of those who won Appy Awards this year. A very special shout-out to Fandango who somehow won an Appy for Mobile Payments, despite not properly securing customer credit card information. Fandango’s app allows self-signed SSL certificates; combine this with the fact that they transmit all of your credit card details in plaintext (though over an HTTPS connection) when you check ticket availability, and it’s a bit ironic that they would win an award for this category. More than two months after being contacted about these issues, they have yet to respond or do anything to try and secure their customer info. Well done, Fandango.

Update 3/17/13: As reader iOSSneak points out below in the comments, Fandango seems to have fixed the SSL issue in version 5.5.1 of the Fandango app, which was released the day after this post. The Fandango app no longer accepts self-signed SSL certificates.

Related post: iPhone Apps Accepting Self-signed SSL Certificates

Escrow Keybags and the iOS 6 lock screen bug

There was a lot of fuss last week about an alleged iPhone lock screen bug that allowed an attacker to bypass the lock screen and access your iPhone’s filesystem. I wrote an article on iMore explaining that this wasn’t the case and the confusion seemed to be the result of a misunderstanding on how iPhone passcodes work.

As mentioned in the article, when an unlocked iPhone is plugged in to a computer with iTunes running (or a locked phone that you then enter the passcode on), iTunes has a mechanism that allows it to access the device’s filesystem in the future without requiring the user to enter their passcode. I ambiguously referred to this “mechanism” because I had absolutely no clue how it worked. All I knew is that the first time you plug a locked device in to a computer, iTunes will give you an error message. However, once you enter the device’s passcode, iTunes will never prompt you again to enter it on that computer. Whether the phone is locked or not, iTunes (and any other app that can talk to your iPhone) will gladly read files from the device and write new data to it.

Twitter user Hubert was kind enough to send me more info about this process. He sent me an article that looks at how iOS 5 backups work. The article briefly explains the use of Escrow Keybags by iTunes (technically I think usbmux is what uses them) to talk to locked devices after they have been unlocked once. The gist seems to be that there are certificates and keys which are exchanged via iTunes when an iPhone is plugged in and unlocked, which are then stored in an Escrow Keybag on the host computer. The Escrow Keybag for every device you’ve ever plugged in to your machine can be found in /private/var/db/lockdown and is named with the UDID for the device that it is for. When a device is plugged in to your computer in the future, this Escrow Keybag is used to unlock the device without the need for the user to enter the passcode.

The confusion on the alleged lock screen bypass bug came from this. The bug discovered simply made the screen go black with a status bar still visible. If you plugged this device in to a computer that it had previously been plugged in to while unlocked, the computer used the Escrow Keybag in order to read the file system without needing the passcode. This would have happened with or without causing the black screen glitch. If the person who found the glitch had plugged their iPhone into a computer that it had never been connected to, they would have gotten an error from iTunes saying that the device was locked and they would need to enter their passcode.

The original video demonstrating the bug can be found here. A video of the same bug being reproduced, but with the phone plugged in to a computer it has not been unlocked with before can be seen here. My sincerest apologies that I don’t have any block rocking beats accompanying my video.

Handling Empty App States

A common scenario that I encounter on nearly every (if not all) projects is how to handle views that lack any data to display. Craig Dennis has a nice post that draws some attention to these often overlooked app states.

The manifestation I most frequently run into are views populated with server-side data when either there is no network connection, or there’s a slow network connection and as a result, no data to immediately display. Paying attention to these situations that users will inevitably encounter is a great way to delight users where they would otherwise just find disappointment.

Source: Dave Wiskus

iPhone Apps Accepting Self-Signed SSL Certificates

I recently spent some time looking at a number of iPhone apps in the App Store to see how well they were implementing SSL. It was a little surprising to see how many big-name apps ignored SSL errors and even more surprising to see some that didn’t use SSL at all. If you want the short version, head on over to Here I wanted to take some time to take a closer look at the issues that I found and how I found them in hopes that other developers can avoid making the same mistakes.

Charles Proxy is a tool I’ve discussed on here previously. It’s a proxy tool that allows you to intercept traffic from your device. One of the features Charles has is SSL proxying. iOS ships with a listed of trusted Certificate Authorities on every iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. These CAs are organizations, who are responsible for issuing SSL certificates, that Apple has deemed trustworthy. Modern browsers, as well as other software and hardware, ship with similar lists that tell them which SSL certificates can be trusted and which cannot. If an iPhone, for example, goes to make a secure connection to, the device looks at the SSL certificate and, among other things, checks the CA that issued the certificate. In Google’s case, the device would see that the SSL certificate has been issued by Verisign, and since Verisign is a trusted CA, it will accept the SSL certificate for this communication.

Conversely, if you were to try to connect to in Safari on your Untrusted Certificatedevice, you would receive an alert about not being able to identify the server’s identity and asking if you want to continue anyway. This is because the certificate has been issued by the Ministry of Silly Walks, which is not a trusted CA. If an app attempts to make a connection and runs into an issue like this, that app should fail the connection. Since the identity of the server you’re connecting to cannot be trusted, the application should err on the side of caution and refuse to send any data, lest it turn over sensitive details to a malicious entity. To understand why the warnings should be heeded or what might cause them to appear, it may be helpful to give more background here.

The reason encryption works is because a person trying to eavesdrop doesn’t have the keys to decrypt the data. But what if they did? In a man-in-the-middle attack, a malicious third party sits between you and the server, decrypting your traffic. The attacker pretends to be the server to you, and pretends to be you to the server. When you send your encrypted data to what you believe is the server, it’s actually the attacker who now has the keys to decrypt the data, because you’re the one they began the connection with. After decrypting the data, looking at it, and manipulating it if they want, the attacker then re-encrypts the data and sends it across their secured connection to the actual server. When the server responds, the attacker will be able to do the same, decrypting the data, looking at it, then re-encrypting it before sending it along to you. But in order to do this, the attacker would need to possess an SSL certificate for the server you’re trying to connect to.

As it turns out, anybody can create their own certificate authority. As such, anybody can issue an SSL certificate. Furthermore, that SSL certificate can be for any server that they want. You could go generate an SSL certificate for right now if you wanted. But what would prevent you from ever being able to make use of that certificate, like in the scenario described above, is that it would not be issued by a trusted CA. You could say you were, but nobody would believe you because your certificate didn’t come from a trusted source. SSL hinges on this chain of trust. And this is where some apps fail.

Instead of only accepting SSL certificates from iOS’ trusted list of CAs, some apps accept SSL certificates issued by anybody. Because of this, the man-in-the-middle attack described above is possible against traffic sent by these apps. An attacker can use an SSL proxying tool that will generate SSL certificates on-the-fly for whatever server is trying to be connected to. Since the apps trust any CA, they will allow these certificates and open up communication with the attacker, who can then view the traffic and send it on to the server. Credit Karma, Fandango, Cinemagram, Flickr, eFax, WebEx, TD Ameritrade, E*TRADE, Monster, H&R Block, ooVoo,, PAYware (by Verifone), EVERPay Mobile POS, and Learn Vest all suffer from this issue. Some companies have already responded. E*TRADE already has a partial fix available, and a more complete fix on the way. Credit Karma, TD Ameritrade say they have updates in the works. Cisco has opened tickets in their bug tracker ( login required) and CVE for users to track the issue, and are also working on a fix. Monster responded but has not been able to say whether or not they will fix it. eFax’s stance is that once your data is outside of their network, they cannot protect it. None of the others have responded. Users should be particularly careful with buying tickets through Fandango since credit card details are transmitted.

These apps are easy enough to find on your own by using a tool like Charles Proxy or mitmproxy. Normally for these tools to work for testing, you would install a certificate on your device to tell the device to trust your CA. Simply skip that step (or uninstall the certificate if you already have it Settings > General > Profiles) and fire up your proxy with SSL proxying enabled. With traffic going through your untrusted proxy, you can fire up apps like Facebook and see that they won’t work. Looking at the requests in your proxy, you’ll see that a connection was attempted, but then closed and no traffic was sent. Now, if you go and open an app that ignores warnings about untrusted CAs, like Flickr, and try to log in, you’ll see something different. You’ll see the app successfully log in and in Charles, you’ll see the request that was sent to the server, and inside it, your username and password. If an attacker were performing a man-in-the-middle attack on you, this is what they would be seeing. Flickr Login

While searching for apps with this problem, I stumbled upon a few that while not suffering from this, had other security problems related to logins. Flixster, iSlick, Camera Awesome!, TechCrunch and Photobucket all send some login information over HTTP. In the case of Camera Awesome!, it’s only Photobucket credentials, and in TechCrunch it’s only authentication for Pocket. But iSlick, Flixster and Photobucket all send usernames and passwords for their respective accounts in plaintext. This means that a user wouldn’t have to do any SSL certificate generation or proxying, they need only be on the same network as you and sniff the network traffic. Obviously this poses an even larger security risk than just accepting self-signed SSL certificate. Particularly if users use the same usernames and/or passwords for other accounts. In Photobucket’s case, they hash your password with MD5, but the password can easily be retrieved using a reverse MD5 hash lookup tool.

So what should be done? Well in the case of apps not using encryption, they should be using SSL for those login requests. iSlick says that SSL support will be coming in a future update. I haven’t heard any updates from the others. As for the other apps that are using SSL, but not implementing it correctly, they need to make sure that they respond to SSL warnings properly. From what I’ve seen, most networking libraries refuse self-signed SSL certs by default. Perhaps ignoring these warnings was done for development purposes and developers forgot to later pull that code out. Whatever the case, I hope each of the companies will respond quickly with updates for their users and hopefully we can all learn from their mistakes to be a little more cautious about how we implement security in our apps. If you decide to do some research on some of the apps you use, be sure to let developers know if you find a problem so they can fix it.