Vulnerabilities in iOS 14 apparently allowed the silent installation of surveillance software on iPhones for months. According to an analysis by the Citizen Lab belonging to the University of Toronto, the NSO Group’s spyware called Pegasus was also used against several activists in Bahrain – probably by its own government.
However, one of the Bahraini activists was only hacked after his escape in London, espionage activities by the Bahraini government had never been observed in Europe, so Citizen Lab.
Zero-day exploit for iOS 14.4 and 14.6
In February 2021, a new loophole was apparently found in the news app, which was better sealed by Apple in iOS 14, and which again enabled zero-click attacks, according to the analysis. The spyware is smuggled in silently without requiring any interaction on the part of the victim, such as opening a link sent. The “Messages” app pre-installed on iPhones enables communication via iMessage, SMS and MMS.
The exploit called “FORCEDENTRY” by Citizen Lab is similar to the attacks on activists with Pegasus spyware documented by Amnesty International in July. The zero-day exploit worked both in iOS 14.4 – and months later in iOS 14.6.
Eliminated gaps? Apple is silent
In recent iOS updates, Apple has repeatedly closed security-relevant bugs around its ImageIO framework, which could enable malicious code to be executed through manipulated image files. It remains to be seen whether the vulnerabilities used by Pegasus have been eliminated in the current version iOS 14.7.1.
Opposite to Techcrunch the group did not want to confirm on Tuesdaythat the loopholes used by the NSO Group have been found and corrected. In a statement, the iPhone company repeated that it was targeted and costly attacks on individuals – this was not a threat to the majority of its own customers. Apple is working on new protective functions, for example the iOS 15 iMessage, which is expected to be released in September, should better secure it.