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Government caught using sophisticated one-click hacking tool in the wild

Government Hacking iPhone Tool

Researchers have discovered a scarily effective piece of malware, authored by an Israeli “cyber arms dealer,” that can completely hack an iPhone if the user clicks on one link. First found by a UAE human rights defender who was sent a malicious link, the spyware uses a series of zero-day exploits to thoroughly take control of a users’ iPhone.

Ahmed Mansoor, the human rights defender in question, was sent the link earlier in August. It was in a text message which promised him information if he followed the link. Instead, he sent the link to researchers at Citizen Lab, who analyzed the malware installed after the link.

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The spyware uses three zero-day exploits to jailbreak any stock iPhone, allowing secret access to data on the device and monitoring of the microphone and camera. In a blog post, the researchers discovered links to a private Israeli firm:

“We recognized the links as belonging to an exploit infrastructure connected to NSO Group, an Israel-based “cyber war” company that sells Pegasus, a government-exclusive “lawful intercept” spyware product.  NSO Group is reportedly owned by an American venture capital firm, Francisco Partners Management.”

Apple has been informed of the zero-day exploits, and has already fixed them. iOS 9.3.5, out today, is basically just a security update that patches those holes.

It’s not just about those three exploits, though: the more worrying fact is that for enough money, anyone seems to be able to buy a hacking tool that can easily penetrate the most common smartphone in the world.

For now, the basic principles of staying safe on the internet remain the same: never click on a link unless it’s sent from a specifically trusted source.