Here’s why Apple thinks you shouldn’t be able to sideload apps on iOS
Apple maintains strict control over app distribution on iOS. The company has stringent measures in place to control exactly which apps go on the App Store, and it doesn’t allow users to sideload apps on iOS and iPadOS devices. Although there are ways in which you can bypass the latter, doing so isn’t as easy as it is on Android. And Apple wants to keep it that way.
In a new document, Apple has detailed precisely why it doesn’t want to give users the ability to sideload apps on iOS and iPadOS. The document describes some of the security measures Apple has put in place to secure the App Store. These measures prevent malicious actors from publishing apps on the App Store and keep the platform safe for both users and developers. The company claims that if it were to allow sideloading of apps, it would “degrade the security of the iOS platform and expose users to series security risks not only on third-party app stores, but also on the App Store.”
Because of the large size of the iPhone user base and the sensitive data stored on their phones – photos, location data, health and financial information – allowing sideloading would spur a flood of new investment into attacks on the platform. Malicious actors would take advantage of the opportunity by devoting more resources to develop sophisticated attacks targeting iOS users, thereby expanding the set of weaponized exploits and attacks – often referred to as a “threat model” – that all users need to be safeguarded against. This increased risk of malware attacks puts all users at greater risk, even those who only download apps from the App Store.
Apple adds that third-party app stores are much riskier and more likely to contain malware than official app stores. Therefore, giving users access to third-party app stores would change the threat model and widen the scope of potential attacks.
By providing additional distribution channels, changing the threat model, and widening the universe of potential attacks, sideloading on iPhone would put all users at risk, even those who make a deliberate effort to protect themselves by only downloading apps through the App Store. Allowing sideloading would spur a flood of new investment into attacks on iPhone, incentivizing malicious actors to develop tools and expertise to attack iPhone device security at an unprecedented scale. Having developed expertise in ever more sophisticated attacks, malicious actors would use it to target third-party stores as well as the App Store, putting all users at greater risk. Additionally, even users who prefer to only download apps from the App Store could be forced to download an app they need for work or for school from third-party stores if it is not made available on the App Store. Or they could be tricked into downloading apps from thirdparty app stores masquerading as the App Store.
The company further claims that third-party app stores will give malicious actors the opportunity to distribute apps that can bypass iOS’ privacy and security measures. It provides a few examples to illustrate how sideloaded apps can bypass iOS features like parental controls and put users at risk of ransomware attacks. According to Apple, allowing users to sideload apps would also promote piracy and harm developers while also putting user data at risk of exploitation. In addition, the company claims that such apps would also be able to bypass iOS security features, like App Tracking Transparency and Privacy labels, and prevent users from knowing exactly how their data is being used.
Apple further explains how its App Review process protects users from potentially malicious apps. The company also details how the process protected users from almost a million problematic new apps and updates, prevented over $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions, and deactivated over 200 million customer accounts due to abusive activity in 2020 alone. For more details, check out the complete document linked above.
What do you think about Apple’s stance on sideloading apps on iOS and iPadOS? Do you think Apple should give users the option to do so, like on Android? Or do you think things are better off the way they are right now? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.