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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Israeli Hacking Firm Said to Be Behind Groundbreaking iOS Malware


Apple has rushed out a patch for its
mobile operating system, iOS, after
malware—reportedly developed by an
Israeli firm that sells spying software
to governments—was able to remotely
surveil an up-to-date iPhone 6.
The attack attempts to encourage
users to open a URL via text message.
When that link is followed, the attack
uses three individual zero-day flaws
to leverage a weakness in Safari’s browser
engine, which enables access to the
operating system’s kernel and installation of
malware to effectively jailbreak the iPhone.

From that point on, the malware can be used
to spy on virtually every aspect of the
phone’s use, from phone calls and text
messages to calendar data and video feeds.
This appears to be the first known example
of hackers having the ability to remotely
jailbreak an iPhone 6, and Motherboard
claims that it’s the first iPhone attack of this
kind. The vulnerability was identified by
researchers at the University of Toronto's
Citizen Lab after Ahmed Mansoor, a human
rights activist and United Arab Emirates
dissident, was targeted using the attack.
The Citizen Lab team claims that the malware
was developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group,
which creates spy software for governments.
It’s no secret that NSO makes software
capable of surveilling smartphones: in 2014,
the Wall Street Journal reported that an NSO
slide claimed to provide technology that
“allows remote and stealth monitoring and
full data extraction from remote devices via
untraceable commands.” It’s currently
unclear who exactly used the malware to
target Mansoor.
Reuters suggests that such a piece of
software, able to spy on an up-to-date iPhone
6, could retail for as much as $1 million.
Citizen Lab researchers informed Apple of the
vulnerability over a week ago, and the
iPhone maker has released a patch for
devices running iOS 9. Apple claims devices
running up-to-date beta versions of iOS 10
are unaffected.
Apple recently announced a bug-bounty
program, which will see it pay out up to
$200,000 for (invited) hackers who manage to
identify the kinds of flaws leveraged by this
malware. Perhaps it should’ve started sooner.
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