September 19, 2021

Apple issues urgent iPhone software update to address critical spyware vulnerability for iMessage

PHILADELPHIA — Apple has up to date its software for iPhones to address a critical vulnerability that impartial researchers say has been exploited by infamous surveillance software to spy on a Saudi activist.

Researchers from the College of Toronto’s Citizen Lab stated the software exploit has been in use since February and has been used to deploy Pegasus, the spyware made by Israeli agency NSO Group that has allegedly been used to surveil journalists and human rights advocates in a number of international locations.

The urgent update that Apple launched Monday plugs a gap within the iMessage software that allowed hackers to infiltrate a person’s telephone with out the person clicking on any hyperlinks, in accordance to Citizen Lab. The Saudi activist selected to stay nameless, Citizen Lab stated.

Apple credited the Citizen Lab researchers for discovering the vulnerability.

“Attacks like the ones described are highly sophisticated, cost millions of dollars to develop, often have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals,” Ivan Krsti, head of Apple Safety Engineering and Structure, stated in a press release.

Krsti stated Apple quickly addressed the problem with a software repair and that the vulnerability is “not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users.”

Nonetheless, safety consultants inspired customers to update their cellular gadgets for safety.

In a press release, NSO Group didn’t address the allegations, solely saying, “NSO Group will continue to provide intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world with life saving technologies to fight terror and crime.”

The agency has beforehand stated its software is simply bought to vetted clients for counterterrorism and regulation enforcement functions.

Researchers, nonetheless, say they’ve discovered a number of circumstances wherein the spyware was deployed on dissidents or journalists. In 2019, Citizen Lab analysts alleged that Pegasus was used on the cell phone of the spouse of a slain Mexican journalist.

In a lawsuit filed in 2019, Fb accused NSO Group of being complicit in a hack of 1,400 cellular gadgets utilizing WhatsApp. (NSO Group disputed the allegations on the time.)

The proliferation of easy-to-use cellular hacking instruments has given governments world wide a brand new and stealthy technique of focusing on adversaries. Refined spyware made by NSO Group and different distributors has been reportedly used from Uzbekistan to Morocco.

The surge in spyware prompted a United Nations panel of human rights consultants in August to name for a moratorium on the sale of such surveillance instruments. The UN panel stated the ban ought to stay in place till governments have “put in place robust regulations that guarantee its use in compliance with international human rights standards.”

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