New Delhi | Jagran Technology Desk: Ahead of its California Streaming launch event today, Apple on Monday released a critical software update to fix a security vulnerability that could allow hackers to hack into the iPhones and other products of Apple without any user action.

As per the researchers of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, Israel’s NSO Group, which is the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire firm, was behind the attack. The researchers also said that the security issue was exploited to plant spyware on a Saudi activist’s iPhone. “We're not necessarily attributing this attack to the Saudi government,” said researcher Bill Marczak.

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 providing tools for fighting “terror and crime”.

It was the first time a so-called “zero-click” exploit — one that doesn't require users to click on suspect links or open infected files — has been caught and analysed, the researchers said.  

Citizen Lab previously found evidence of zero-click exploits being used to hack into the phones of al-Jazeera journalists and other targets but hasn't previously seen the malicious code itself. Although security experts say that average iPhone, iPad and Mac users generally need not worry — such attacks tend to be limited to specific targets — the discovery still alarmed security professionals.

Malicious image files were transmitted to the activist's phone via the iMessage instant-messaging app before it was hacked with NSO's Pegasus spyware, which opens a phone to eavesdropping and remote data theft, 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 is allowing its spyware to be used against ordinary civilians.

In a blog post, Apple said it was issuing a security update for iPhones and iPads because a “maliciously crafted” PDF file could lead to them being hacked. It said it was aware that the issue may have been exploited and cited Citizen Lab.

In a subsequent statement, Apple security chief Ivan Krstic commended Citizen Lab and said such exploits “are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users.” He noted as he has in the past, that such exploits typically cost millions of dollars to develop and often have a short shelf life.  

Citizen Lab called the iMessage to exploit FORCEDENTRY and said it was effective against Apple iOS, macOS and WatchOS devices. It urged people to immediately install security updates.

 

(With Agency Inputs)

Posted By: Talibuddin Khan