Apple’s iPhone patch and everything you need to know about Pegasus spyware

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Angela Lang / CNET

It’s a digital spy case. Security researchers have found evidence of successful attempts or installations of Pegasus, software designed by an Israel-based cybersecurity company ONS Group, on 37 telephones of activists, journalists and businessmen. The targets appear to have been targets of covert surveillance by software designed to help governments prosecute criminals and terrorists.

Pegasus has been a politically explosive issue that has put pressure on Israel from activists and governments worried about software misuse. France and the United States have expressed their concerns, and NSO has suspended Pegasus privileges from some countries.

It also didn’t help Apple’s reputation as a trustworthy technology provider. Monday, however, Apple fix a security flaw exploited by Pegasus for installation on iPhones, The New York Times reported and confirmed by Apple. Malware often uses collections of such vulnerabilities to gain a foothold on a device and then extend privileges to become more powerful. NSO Group’s software also works on Android phones.

The phones were on an activist organization’s list of more than 50,000 phone numbers for politicians, judges, lawyers, teachers and others. Also on this list are 10 prime ministers, three presidents and a king, according to a international survey published in mid-July by the Washington Post and other media, although there is no evidence that being on the list means that an attack was attempted or successful.

Pegasus is the latest example of how vulnerable all of us are to digital indiscretions. Our most personal information – photos, texts and emails – is stored on our phones. Spyware can directly reveal what is going on in our lives, bypassing the encryption that protects data sent over the Internet.

All 50,000 phone numbers are connected to phones around the world, although NSO disputes the link between the list and the actual phones targeted by Pegasus. The devices of dozens of people close to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador were on the list, as were those belonging to reporters from CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But the phones of several people on the list, including Claude Mangin, the French wife of a political activist imprisoned in Morocco, have been infected or attacked.

Here’s what you need to know about Pegasus.

What is the NSO group?

It is a company that licenses surveillance software to government agencies. The company says its Pegasus software provides a valuable service because encryption technology has allowed criminals and terrorists to go. “dark. “The software runs secretly on smartphones, shedding light on what their owners are doing. Other companies provide similar software.

CEO Shalev Hulio co-founded the company in 2010. NSO also offers other tools to track where a phone is in use, defend against drones, and leverage law enforcement data to identify models.

NSO has been involved in previous reports and lawsuits in other hacks, including a reported hack of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2018. A Saudi dissident sued the company in 2018 for its alleged role in hacking a device belonging to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had been assassinated inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey that year.

What is Pegasus?

Pegasus is NSO’s best known product. It can be installed remotely without a surveillance target ever having to open a link to a document or website, according to the Washington Post. Pegasus reveals everything to NSO customers who control it – text messages, photos, emails, videos, contact lists – and can record phone calls. It can also secretly turn on a phone’s microphone and cameras to create new records, the Washington Post said.

General security practices like updating your software and using two-factor authentication can help keep traditional hackers at bay, but protection is really tough when expert, well-funded attackers focus. their resources on an individual.

Pegasus is not meant to be used to prey on activists, journalists and politicians. “ONS Group licenses its products only to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of preventing and investigating terrorism and serious crime, ”the company says on its website. “Our verification process goes beyond legal and regulatory requirements to ensure the lawful use of our technology as designed.

Human rights group Amnesty International, however, documents in detail how he traced the compromised smartphones back to the NSO Group. Citizen laboratory, a Canadian security organization at the University of Toronto, independently said validated the findings of Amnesty International after reviewing the phone backup data.

Why is Pegasus in the news now?

Forbidden stories, a Parisian journalism association, and Amnesty International, a human rights group, shared with 17 news agencies a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers of people who may be of interest to NSO clients.

The news sites confirmed the identities of many of the people on the list and the infections on their phones. Of the data of 67 phones on the list, 37 exhibited signs of installation of Pegasus or attempted installation, according to the Washington Post. Of these 37 phones, 34 were Apple iPhones.

The list of 50,000 phone numbers includes French President Emmanuel Macron, Iraqi President Barham Salih and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. There are also seven former Prime Ministers and three current ones, the Pakistani Imran Khan, the Egyptian Mostafa Madbouly and the Moroccan Saad-Eddine El Othmani. King Mohammed VI of Morocco is also on the list.

Which phones did Pegasus infect?

In addition to Mangin, two journalists from the Hungarian investigation center Direkt36 had infected phones, The Guardian reported.

A The Pegasus attack was launched on Hanan Elatr’s phone, wife of murdered Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, told The Washington Post, although it is not clear whether the attack was successful. But the spyware arrived on the phone of Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, shortly after her death.

And seven people in India were found with infected phones, including five journalists and an opposition party adviser criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Washington Post reported.

What does NSO have to say about this?

NSO recognizes that its software can be misused. He has cut two clients in the past 12 months over concerns about human rights violations, according to the Washington Post. “To date, NSO has rejected more than $ 300 million in sales opportunities as a result of its human rights review processes,” the company said in a statement. June Transparency Report.

However, NSO strongly disputes any connection to the list of phone numbers. “There is no connection between the 50,000 numbers and NSO Group or Pegasus,” the company said in a statement.

“Every allegation of abuse of the system concerns me”, Hulio told the Post. “It violates our trust in customers. We investigate every allegation.”

NSO has blocked some governments from using Pegasus while it investigates the current situation, NPR reported. In the past, NSO had also blocked Saudi Arabia, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and some Mexican government agencies from using the software, The Washington Post reported.

In a statement, NSO denied “false claims” about Pegasus which it said were “based on a misleading interpretation of the leaked data.” Pegasus “cannot be used to conduct cyber surveillance in the United States,” the company added.

NSO has not commented on the suspension of the ability of certain countries to use Pegasus or its actions to ensure that its software is used as intended.

What are the consequences of the Pegasus situation?

President Joe Biden’s senior adviser on the Middle East has met with an Israeli Defense Ministry official to express concern, The Washington Post and Axios reported.

Macron changed one of his cell phone numbers and called for new security checks, Politico reported. He called a national security meeting to discuss the matter. Macron also raised Pegasus’ concerns with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett calling on the country to investigate NSO and Pegasus, The Guardian reported. The Israeli government must approve the export licenses for Pegasus.

Israel created a review board to examine the Pegasus situation. And July 28, Israeli defense authorities inspected ONS offices in person.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said if the allegations were verified, The use of Pegasus is “completely unacceptable”. She added: “Freedom of the media, freedom of the press is one of the fundamental values ​​of the EU.

The Nationalist Congress Party in India requested an investigation into the use of Pegasus.

Edward Snowden, who in 2013 disclosed information about US National Security Agency surveillance practices, called for a ban on the sale of spyware in an interview with The Guardian. He argued that such tools would soon be used to spy on millions of people. “When we talk about something like an iPhone, they’re all running the same software around the world. So if they find a way to hack an iPhone, they’ve found a way to hack them all,” Snowden said. .

How do I know if my phone has been infected?

Amnesty International has released an open source utility called MVT (Mobile Verification Toolkit) which is designed to detect traces of Pegasus. The software runs on a personal computer and analyzes data including backup files exported from iPhone or Android phone.


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