Hackers have been breaking into iPhones allegedly using a powerful spy tool sold to governments and taking advantage of a previously unknown vulnerability in the popular messaging app WhatsApp.
The hacking tool, as well as the WhatsApp exploit, were made by the infamous Israeli hacking and surveillance tool vendor NSO Group, according to The Financial Times, which first reported the story on Monday.
“The simple reality is there are so many 0-day exploits for iOS,” Stefan Esser, a security researcher that specializes in iOS, wrote on Twitter. “And the only reason why just a few attacks have been caught in the wild is that iOS phones by design hinder defenders to inspect the phones.”
As of today, there is no specific tool that an iPhone user can download to analyze their phone and figure out if it has been compromised. In 2016, Apple took down an app made by Esser that was specifically designed to detect malicious jailbreaks. Moreover, iOS is so locked down that without hacking or jailbreaking it first, even a talented security researcher can do very little analysis on it.
Not clear to me if that “0-day exploits” comment is true. After all, if you don’t have the tools to break in, how would you know. But the article does make interesting points. Are there exploit-detecting tools running behind the scenes on iOS, reporting back to Apple if anything is amiss? Or is it more like, the vault is so secure we don’t need guards?