iPhone hack: NSO malware builds a computer inside your phone to steal data

NSO iPhone malware builds a computer inside your phone to steal data

An incredibly sophisticated slice of malware developed by the Israeli tech firm NSO Group works by creating an entirely separate computer inside the retentiveness of an iPhone, allowing attackers to snoop and steal information

Applied science

16 December 2021

The hack targeted iPhones

Photo by Richard Drew/AP/Shutterstock

NSO Group, an Israeli tech firm, developed malware to hack iPhones by creating a “computer within a reckoner” capable of stealing sensitive data and sitting undetected for months or fifty-fifty years, researchers at Google have revealed.

The malware is function of NSO Grouping’south Pegasus software tool, which it is thought to have sold to countries including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Saudi arabia, Bharat and the United Arab Emirates. U.s. law-makers have called for sanctions against the firm.

Pegasus allows a user to read information from smartphones and spy via their microphones and cameras. The latest feature of the tool to emerge publicly, which has been called ForcedEntry, is also one of the well-nigh powerful and concerning to appointment, according to security experts.


The technical details were unravelled by members of the Project Goose egg security squad at Google with the help of Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto in Canada, which investigates estimator security and its impact on human rights. The attack is a “zero click” vulnerability, which means that the target doesn’t demand to be tricked into clicking a link, putting even careful and technically savvy users at risk.

A specially crafted iMessage is sent to the target’s iPhone containing a fake GIF animation. Due to the style Apple’s software handled these images, information technology was possible for NSO Group to create a malicious file posing every bit an paradigm and exploit an one-time piece of software for encoding and decoding images. This software was originally designed to compress text-heavy PDFs to salvage retentiveness infinite. Information technology is only meant to take access to specific parts of the memory in a smartphone, and to perform logical operations to shrink the images.

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Only NSO Grouping discovered a way to suspension out of that allocated piece of memory and use those logical operations – some 70,000 of them – to build a rudimentary virtual computer, entirely separate to the operating system of the iPhone. It could so use that virtual computer to search for specific pieces of data, manipulate information technology or transmit information technology dorsum to whoever sanctioned the attack.

Alan Woodward at the University of Surrey, United kingdom of great britain and northern ireland, says the pull a fast one on is extremely sophisticated and shows how strong and lucrative NSO Group’s market must exist. “It’due south almost like a telephone within a telephone, or an operating system within an operating organization,” he says. “That’s quite clever because it ways it’south slightly more than difficult to detect. You’re non looking for an individual procedure or a signature. You can hide it.”

The researchers revealed the vulnerability to Apple and information technology was stock-still in September in the iOS 14.8 update. But Woodward warns that such an insidious attack, if carried out prior to that update, could theoretically persist and continue to spy on the user. Some users besides fail to keep their phones updated with the latest operating system, which could get out them vulnerable.

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the company appear in Nov that it was launching a lawsuit confronting NSO Grouping to stop the company hacking into its products. Facebook, Microsoft, Google and LinkedIn had already launched legal activeness. NSO Group didn’t answer to a request for comment.

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iPhone hack: NSO malware builds a computer inside your phone to steal data

Source: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2302113-nso-iphone-malware-builds-a-computer-inside-your-phone-to-steal-data/