Apple recently released a critical security update (iOS 9.3.5) addressing three security vulnerabilities, for which there are known exploits. It is strongly recommended that iPhone and iPad users perform this update asap. You may not have yet received a prompt to perform the update, but the update is available on your device(s) via Settings -> General -> Software Update. More information about the vulnerabilities is available below.
Recently, a foreign government affiliated “cyber-war” company exploited a set of three zero-day vulnerabilities (dubbed ‘Trident’) in Apple’s iOS version < 9.3.5 to spy on a prominent human rights activist. The vulnerabilities, when exploited, can allow the malicious actor(s) to decrypt and steal emails, text messages, call logs, as well as remotely activate the phone’s microphone among other invasions of privacy and device compromises. Apple released an update several hours later that patches the vulnerabilities.
While this security bulletin affects the internet community as a whole, the Trident spyware has been seen to specifically target high profile individuals such as political activists and be used against anyone to compromise access and device privacy. In this case, evidence exists where a political dissident and internationally renowned human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was sent a suspicious text message claiming to have “New secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons” with a link. The link in the text message would have compromised the phone. However Ahmed Mansoor, cautious as he was, instead alerted a technology laboratory that works with human rights activists. This lab is called CitizenLab and together with Lookout Mobile Security, they traced the source of the compromise attempt as well as noted the effects of the mobile malware.
The source was traced to NSO Group Technologies Ltd. “NSO Group, based in Herzelia, Israel […], develops and sells mobile phone surveillance software to governments around the world. The company describes itself as a ‘leader’ in ‘mobile and cellular Cyber Warfare,’ and has been operating for more than six years since its founding in 2010.” – CitizenLab
Extent of Effects:
According to CitizenLab, the Trident spyware would effectively allow the malicious actor to gain complete control over the target phone by jailbreaking it remotely. After jailbreaking the device, the attacker essentially has full and unrestricted access to almost everything the device contains or processes including but not limited to:
– Calls made by phone, WhatsApp and Viber, SMS messages, as well as messages and other data from popular apps like Gmail, WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, KakaoTalk, Telegram, and others
– A wide range of personal data, such as calendar data and contact lists, as well as passwords, including Wi-Fi passwords. (above list taken from CitizenLab)
The malware also has the ability to persist throughout patches of individual applications since the compromise affects the operating system layer underneath.
Update any and all Apple iOS devices to the latest version 9.3.5 or greater.
Ahmed Mansoor – https://www.hrw.org/tag/ahmed-mansoor
CitizenLab’s full analysis – https://citizenlab.org/2016/08/million-dollar-dissident-iphone-zero-day-nso-group-uae/
Lookout Security’s analysis – https://blog.lookout.com/blog/2016/08/25/trident-pegasus/
Apple’s patch notes (iOS v.9.3.5) – https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207107
Ars Technica news article – http://arstechnica.com/apple/2016/08/apple-releases-ios-9-3-5-with-an-important-security-update/