The Israeli company NSO Group has taken advantage of a security breach in Apple devices as a way to infect them with its spyware Pegasus. The hole was discovered by the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto, which studies the attacks with this malware that have been detected on the phones of politicians, activists and journalists around the world. Researchers reported the breach to Apple, which released an emergency update late Monday to close it.
Pegasus, the program that hacked Catalan politicians and spied on journalists and activists around the world
The hole was present in the iMessage application and could be exploited on iPhone phones, Mac computers, and iWatch watches. An attacker could use this security flaw to inoculate Pegasus on the victim’s device without the need for the victim to click on any file or take any action. Once inside, the NSO Group spyware can turn on the camera or microphone without the knowledge of its owner, record your messages, phone calls or emails, and transmit its location to the attacker in real time.
The Citizen Lab has discovered this new entry point for Pegasus investigating the phone of a Saudi activist who feared he had been infected. “NSO Group says its spyware is only for targeting criminals and terrorists. But here we are again: we have discovered their attacks because they were used against an activist,” said John Scott-Ralton, principal investigator at the Citizen Lab, recommending all owners immediately update their devices.
Investigators began analyzing the activist’s phone in March. It was not until September 7 when they completely unraveled the infection route that the program had followed and finally communicated it to Apple, which a week later has completed the security update to block it.
To update Apple devices, you must access Settings, click on general, then in Software update and select Download and Install iOS 14.8, the version of its operating system that the brand has published late on Monday.
An epidemic continues that also affects Spain
Last July, an investigation by various international media outlets revealed that authoritarian governments around the world have targeted human rights activists, journalists and lawyers with Pegasus. French President Emmanuel Macron and thirteen other heads of state and government were on the target list of the Israeli company’s spy program.
In Spain, The country, The Guardian and elDiario.es also confirmed in 2020 that there were Catalan politicians infected with this program. Among them were the then president of the Parliament of Catalonia, Roger Torrennt; the ERC deputy, Ernest Maragall; the former CUP deputy, Anna Gabriel or the activist of the Catalan National Assembly Jordi Domingo. Jordi Puigneró, today vice president of the Generalitat, also reported that he was attacked, but assured that in his case Pegasus failed to enter his device.
After the leaks that uncovered the indiscriminate use of Pegasus as a method of espionage against members of civil society, the NSO Group assured that it would toughen its sales policies to prevent its program from falling into the hands of authoritarian governments or cyber espionage organizations. However, a large number of experts, such as the former NSA analyst Edward Snowden or the UN rapporteur David Kaye assure that this is not enough and call for a complete moratorium on the sale of this type of technology.