Go and update your Apple devices, right now.
That's the message from Apple, delivered to its vast userbase on September 13, 2021. So if you haven't already, you really should go and update your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac computer, as Apple isn't messing around with this one.
Israel's NSO Group is exploiting what's known as the Holy Grail of remote surveillance, a "zero-click remote exploit," allowing their Pegasus spyware to infect devices without any interaction.
Apple: Patch Your Devices Now
Yet again, the incredible research team at Citizen Lab has uncovered an exploit used to hack high-profile Apple devices targeted by clients of the NSO Group.
The NSO Group's notorious Pegasus spyware features numerous advanced surveillance and intrusion techniques, but the deployment of a zero-click exploit pushes the bar to another level.
In short, those with a license to use Pegasus could infect Apple devices without alerting the user, tracking texts, calls, emails, camera, microphone, and more, without requiring any user interaction.
The exploit, known as ForcedEntry, is not only remarkable in that it is a no-click remote attack but that it also appears to have actively compromised the latest versions of iOS.
Citizen Lab found the Pegasus spyware and the ForcedEntry exploit running on iOS versions 14.4 and 14.6, completely avoiding Apple's BlastDoor sandboxing to infect the entire device.
Why Do I Need to Update My Apple Device?
As we've seen before, Pegasus is like super-spyware. The level of sophistication that goes into developing nation-state-level spyware means that licensing it costs a small fortune.
So, if that is the case, why is Apple frantically updating all of its devices? Surely regular folks like you and I don't need to worry about it?
Well, partially yes; the NSO Group and its clients are unlikely to target you. However, Citizen Lab's work has uncovered a vulnerability in its software, and whether or not that vulnerability is affecting "regular" people or not, it needs fixing.
As the exploit is deployed against sensitive individuals, such as activists and journalists in repressive regimes, Apple needs to take steps to fix the vulnerability as quickly as possible.
Has My Device Been Affected by the Exploit?
As above, it's highly unlikely that your device has come anywhere near the Pegasus spyware.
Speaking to The Guardian, Apple head of security engineering and architecture, Ivan Krstić, said:
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. While that means they are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users, we continue to work tirelessly to defend all our customers, and we are constantly adding new protections for their devices and data.
Why Do Hackers Keep Exploit Apple Products?
If you feel like you've read this headline before, you're not wrong.
2021 has been a difficult year for Apple security, with at least 16 zero-day exploits found across its products. Although more than 60 zero-day exploits have been disclosed so far in 2021, it's still a figure that Apple would prefer a lower share of.
A cursory internet search reveals similar headlines for Apple products in almost every month of 2021 as high-profile and well-resourced take aim at Apple.
But why always Apple? Why are Apple products attracting so much attention? It effectively boils down to the company's track record on privacy and security. Apple products are well known to be harder to break into and exploit than Android devices, so high-profile individuals are more likely to use them, be that a journalist, activist, business owner, or government official.
With that knowledge in hand, these groups spend more time and effort researching Apple vulnerabilities, knowing that the payback from a single exploit could be phenomenal.
How to Update Your Apple Device
Updating your iPhone, iPad, or iPod is a very similar process on each device:
- Head to Settings > General > Software Update
- Tap Install Now. Alternatively, you may see Download and Install.
Those using macOS can also update:
- Head to System Preferences > Software Update.
- Select Update Now.
Apple's latest enforced update doesn't take long to download or install, so your phone or laptop won't be out of use for long.
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