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DIY Spy Program: Abusing Apple’s Call Relay Protocol


Apple introduced a new set of features in iOS 8 and Yosemite under the name “Continuity”. These features allow iPhones to work with other iDevices such as Macs and iPads in new ways. Handoff, Instant hotspot and Airdrop are some of the new services offered by Continuity. Among these new services is one named “Call Relay”. Essentially, it allows one to make and receive phone calls via iDevices and route them through the iPhone. This is not your typical VOIP service as it’s a P2P connection based on a proprietary protocol.

In order for it to work, both devices (iPhone and the iDevice that makes/takes the call) need to be on the same WiFi. This is what caught my attention. Apple’s security white-paper is short and vague on this particular topic. Only four paragraphs are dedicated to explain how Call Relay works and the only security relevant information is as follows: “The audio will be seamlessly transmitted from your iPhone using a secure peer-to-peer connection between the two devices.”

How it works

The first step is to get a high level understanding of the protocol and how the different actors interact. Wireshark is our friend here. For easy reading, we will take the case of an incoming call from now on. That is, somebody calls the victim, his iPhone rings but he picks up the call on his MacBook.

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