Scientists from the University of Citizen Lab in Toronto have identified a new type of spyware, with the help of which hackers break into Apple’s operating system, including its latest devices, using the so-called “zero click” method, that is, without any action on the part of the user.
In March of this year, scientists got hold of the iPhone of one of the Saudi dissidents (the name is not disclosed), the analysis of which showed that it was hacked with the help of the new Pegasus spyware update developed by the Israeli company NSO Group.
Neither the existence of this program nor the vulnerability of Apple is news. An independent expert group from Citizen Lab has already established some time ago that hacks are carried out through the iMessage messenger. According to them, the problem affects all systems of the company – Apple iOS, macOS and WatchOS.
However, scientists have now managed to get hold of a piece of code (exploit) of a malicious program, which greatly helped to understand the mechanism of its operation.
Citizen Lab handed over its considerations to Apple in early September, and on Tuesday the company announced the release of iOS 14.8 and iPadOS 14.8 emergency patches, which are designed to patch operating system security flaws.
Cybersecurity experts say Apple’s engagement with Canadian scientists and the rapid development of security patches is critical to the development of more reliable data protection systems.
At the same time, they say that most of Apple’s users have nothing to worry about, since spyware attacks are usually carried out on purpose.
The tech giant’s announcements coincided with the opening on Tuesday of the company’s annual conference, which will unveil new iPhone models and updates to AirPods and Apple Watch.
What is Pegasus spy software
The Pegasus program was originally developed by the Israeli NSO Group for the Israeli intelligence services. However, as journalists of 17 largest world publications found out in the course of a joint investigation called Project Pegasus, later it began to be used to spy on the intelligence services of at least 10 countries. The findings of the investigation were published in July this year.
They also said that dozens of governments of different countries and hundreds of companies became clients of the NSO Group who bought the software.
The company initially denied this, but in a recent comment to Reuters, NSO Group officials said they would continue to provide intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world with technology to fight terrorism and crime.
The Israeli Defense Ministry also stated that Israel permits the sale of cybersecurity-related products only to government agencies and only for the fight against crime and terrorism.
However, back in the summer, the Paris-based nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights organization Amnesty International gained access to a list of potential victims of surveillance. The list includes more than 50 thousand phone numbers, among their owners are journalists, dissidents, top managers of large companies, businessmen, opposition politicians, as well as officials of a number of countries and representatives of the royal families of Arab states.
According to experts, the fight against spyware is almost endless: for every protection from tech giants, developers on the other hand come up with new workarounds.