BOSTON Apple has released a critical software patch to fix a security vulnerability that researchers believe could allow hackers to directly infect iPhones and other Apple devices without any user action.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab say the security issue was exploited to install spyware on an iPhone of Saudi activists, and warned it could allow hackers to infect other AAPLs from Apple,
devices. They said they had great confidence that the world’s most infamous hacker company, Israels NSO Group, was behind the attack on the activist device.
The previously unknown vulnerability affected all major Apple devices, iPhones, Macs and Apple Watches, the researchers said. NSO Group responded with a one-sentence statement saying it will continue to provide tools to fight terrorism and crime.
It was the first time that a so-called clickless exploit, which means it did not force users to click on suspicious links or open infected files, was detected and analyzed, the researchers said. . They found the malicious code on September 7 and immediately alerted Apple. They said they had great faith in the Israeli company NSO Group was behind the attack, adding that the targeted activist requested to remain anonymous.
Did not necessarily attribute the attack to the Saudi government, researcher Bill Marczak said.
Citizen Lab had previously found evidence of zero-click exploits used to hack the phones of al-Jazeera reporters and other targets, but had never done so before. this is the first where the exploit was captured so we can find out how it works, Marczak said.
While security experts say the average iPhone, iPad, and Mac user usually doesn’t have to worry, such attacks tend to be highly targeted, the discovery still worrying security professionals. security.
Malicious image files were transmitted to activists’ phones through the iMessage instant messaging app before being hacked with NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which unlocks a phone to eavesdropping and data theft remotely, Marczak said. It was discovered during a second examination of the phone, which forensics showed had been infected in March. He said the malicious file causes devices to crash.
Citizen Lab says the case reveals, once again, that NSO Group allows its spyware to be used against ordinary civilians.
In a blog post, Apple said it is releasing a security update for iPhones and iPads because a maliciously crafted PDF file could cause them to be hacked. He said he was aware the issue may have been exploited and cited Citizen Lab. Apple did not immediately respond to questions about whether this was the first time it had patched a zero-click vulnerability.
Users should receive alerts on their iPhone prompting them to update the phone’s iOS software. Those who want to take the plunge can go to the phone settings, click on General, then on Software update, and directly trigger the patch update.
Citizen Lab called the iMessage FORCEDENTRY exploit and said it was effective against Apple iOS, macOS, and WatchOS devices. He urged people to immediately install security updates.
Researcher John Scott-Railton said the news highlights the importance of securing popular messaging apps against such attacks. Chat apps are increasingly becoming an important way for nation states and hackers to access phones, he said. And that’s why it’s so important for businesses to go to great lengths to make sure they’re as locked down as possible.
The researchers said it also undermines NSO Groups’ claims that it only sells its spyware to law enforcement officials for use against criminals and terrorists and audits its clients to ensure that they are not abused.
If Pegasus had only been used against criminals and terrorists, we would never have found this stuff, Marczak said.
WhatsApp was also reportedly targeted by a clickless exploit from NSO in October 2019,Facebook sued NSO in US federal courtfor allegedly targeting some 1,400 users of the encrypted email service with spyware.
In July, a global media consortium published adamning reporton how NSO Group clients have spied on journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents and their families for years, with the hacker group directly involved in the targeting. Amnesty International said it has confirmed 37 successful Pegasus infections on the basis of a disclosed targeting list, the origin of which has not been disclosed.
One concerned the fiancee of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi just four days after his assassination at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The CIA attributed the murder to the Saudi government.
The recent revelations have also prompted calls for an investigation into whether Hungary’s right-wing government used Pegasus to covertly monitor critical journalists, lawyers and businessmen. India’s parliament also erupted into protests as opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Narendra Modis’s government of using NSO Groups proceeds to spy on political opponents and others.
France is also trying to shed light on allegations that President Emmanuel Macron and members of his government may have been targeted in 2019 by an unidentified Moroccan security service using Pegasus. Morocco, a key ally of France, has denied this information and is taking legal action to counter allegations involving the North African kingdom in the spyware scandal.