Recently, says a report at wired.com, it’s been unveiled that the obscure Israel-based NSO Group has been selling spyware delivered to smartphones through vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS operating system.
“Pegasus” spyware can put a surveillance out on nearly everything including keystrokes, e-mails, video feeds and phone calls. Apple says that the three vulnerabilities with this spyware (“Trident”) have been patched.
In short, NSO Group’s spyware has been reverse engineered for the first time—achieved by the security research firm Lookout, which discovered Pegasus. Also getting credit for the discovery is Citizen Lab.
- Ahmed Mansoor, a well-known human rights activist with a history of being targeted by surveillance spyware, sent the security firms the suspicious SMS text messages he had received.
- Mansoor’s mobile device was running iOS’s latest version when two phishing texts came in with links. He had refused to click them.
- Instead he sent screenshots to Citizen Lab. The links led to a blank Safari browser page. The analysis then began.
- The spyware was intended to jailbreak the phone.
Jailbreaking an iPhone means the user can bypass Apple’s plan and customize the experience. However, in the Pegasus case, remote hackers wanted this control.
Citizen Lab and Lookout took their analysis to Apple, who made the patches within 10 days. The recommendation is to regularly download the latest iOS versions to help protect the device from attacks. The latest iOS version will stop Pegasus. However, it’s possible for NSO to infiltrate other phone operating systems like Android with the spyware, says Citizen Lab and Lookout.
NSO Group has no website, and supposedly, earns $75 million a year, with governments as the typical clients, and may have up to 500 employees. It won’t be any surprise if a new and similar threat follows soon, as the NSO Group is quite advanced, with a solid software development organization.
Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.