Generally recognized as one of the most secure operating systems, Apple was recently discovered to be the victims of an ongoing malware attack on iPhones that has infected devices for at least two years. Google security researchers identified several websites which remain unnamed that contained the malicious software. Any iphone user who visited one of these sites would instantly acquire the bugged monitor. Hackers infected the device, gained control of virtually the entire phone, collected massive amounts of sensitive data, and left without a trace when the phone was restarted. 

The entire attack was quite unusual for a few reasons. First, there were no specific targets. The malware installed a monitoring implant in any iPhone from iOS 10 to 12.1 that visited an infected website. This implant gave hackers access to passwords stored in iOS Keychain, photos, contacts, location, messages, and much more data from third party apps. Another strange feature of this attack was the motive. Technically unknown, the attack seems to lack a motive. There is no evidence of whether the data collected was stolen and misused in any way either. Other concerning details include the mysterious attacker (or attackers) and how many individuals were affected. 

 

The attack was carried out through a series of exploit chains. Exploit chains are multiple malware tools that expose vulnerabilities in software and work together to hack a device. In this attack, fourteen vulnerabilities were targeted in Apple’s software. Some of these vulnerabilities were concerned with the web browser and core operating system. The malware collected the phone’s data and sent it to a server controlled by the hackers to do with it whatever they please. 

Immediately after learning about this attack, Apple worked out an update for the iPhone in just six days to give its users more security and resolve some of the vulnerabilities that were exposed. The company is also upgrading their security flaw and bug research studies. Apple now offers up to 1.5 million dollars for one exploit depending on the severity of it. Custom iPhones are even provided to some researchers to assist them in finding flaws and vulnerabilities in the software. Hopefully these improved measures will keep an attack such as this from going unnoticed for so long.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU

If your iPhone is not currently running the latest update, at least the 12.1.4 update, you will want to download it immediately. Just go to “Settings; General” this will tell you if you have an update available and prompt you to download if there is one. It is also important to be aware that clever and mysterious attacks like this are happening. Be aware of the information you store on your phone and consider what may happen if that data gets into the wrong hands.

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