After experts in web security discovered that an iPhone unit belonging to a prominent Arab activist has been targeted with spyware, Apple has decided to immediately upgrade its iOS mobile operating system. As reported by net security company Lookout and Internet watchdog group Citizen Lab, specially designed spyware can be used in order to exploit a trio of previously unrevealed vulnerabilities in Apple’s OS, collected called Trident. Both Lookout and Citizen Lab believe that the spyware came from NSO Group, an Israel based firm that sells software that can track a mobile device without being easily detected. As explained in Lookout’s blog, Trident is utilized in a spyware called Pegasus, which was developed by the aforementioned NSO Group. Pegasus has advanced capabilities when it comes to using zero days, obfuscation, encryption, and exploitation on the kernel level.
Pegasus is especially dangerous because it tries to exploit various aspects of mobile devices, including connectivity, voice communications, camera, email, text and chat, GPS, passwords, and contact list data. Furthermore, its modular nature allows it to be easily customizable, and its use of extensive encryption makes it difficult to detect.
In response, Apple has rolled out iOS 9.3.5, the latest updated version of its iOS mobile operating system. According to the iPhone maker, this newest deployment should provide an immediate fix to the vulnerability. Moreover, the company is recommending all iOS mobile users to always acquire the latest version of iOS in order to protect themselves against any software security threat. Speaking of which, in order to install this update, owners of iPhone devices need only head to Settings > General > Software Update.
The Trident vulnerability was uncovered about a couple of weeks ago when Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), started getting unusual text messages. If he had opened a link that was included in the text messages, malware could have been installed on his mobile device, one that has the ability to intercept voice calls, text messages, and even email messages. Instead of launching the link, Mansoor made the wise decision to sent the weird messages to Citizen Lab’s research team.
This is the third time that Mansoor has been targeted with malware. Half a decade ago, he was targeted with FinFisher spyware, and then a year later, he was targeted with Hacking Team spyware. Such instances only illustrate the extent in which various governments are willing to go in attacking activists.
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