Citizen Lab exposes Pegasus flaw in Apple devices

This revelation has triggered new concerns about the far-reaching capabilities of NSO Group's spyware and its potential impact on civil society and individual privacy.
Rizwan Choudhury
Apple Store in New York City.
Apple Store in New York City.

Credits: :AleksandarNakic/iStock 

University of Toronto-based watchdog group Citizen Lab uncovered a high-profile security flaw in Apple devices that was exploited by Israeli firm NSO Group's notorious Pegasus spyware. The revelation came to light while analyzing the Apple device of a team member of a Washington, D.C.-based civil society organization last week.

"Based on forensic analysis, we attribute the exploit to NSO Group's Pegasus spyware with a high degree of confidence," stated Bill Marczak, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab. Marczak revealed that the spyware was detected likely due to an attacker's installation process error.

This revelation has triggered new concerns about the far-reaching capabilities of NSO Group's spyware and its potential impact on civil society and individual privacy. The Israeli firm has been under a cloud, blacklisted by the U.S. government since 2021 for alleged unethical activities, including unauthorized surveillance of government officials and journalists.

Apple has verified Citizen Lab's findings, stating that using the 'Lockdown Mode,' a high-security feature on Apple devices, would effectively block this particular exploit. "Civil society once again proves to be an early warning system against highly sophisticated cyber-attacks," said John Scott-Railton, another senior researcher at Citizen Lab.

While the watchdog organization refrained from providing specific details about the individual or the affected institution, it was clear that the vulnerability allowed for the compromise of iPhones running the latest iOS version, 16.6, without requiring any interaction from the victim. Apple, in response, has issued updates to patch the identified flaw. The tech giant did not offer any additional comments on the matter. In contrast, Citizen Lab has advised consumers to update their Apple devices expediently.

NSO Group remained cryptic in its response, stating, "We are unable to comment on allegations lacking supporting research."

Market shifts

As Apple navigates through the spyware turbulence, the company faces business pressures. Shares of Apple and some of its suppliers witnessed a slump this week following an order from Beijing directing central government employees to discontinue using iPhones at their workplaces.

Speaking to Reuters, Analyst Landsberg suggested that Beijing's decision may be a form of "payback" against U.S. sanctions on Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei. He also cited ongoing speculations of Apple looking beyond China—particularly toward India—as a potential manufacturing base.

Landsberg cautioned that Apple's challenges are not just international but also product-centric. The tech behemoth is set to roll out new iPhone models next Tuesday. "The new versions don't offer significant technical upgrades. They are raising prices, which will be a domestic issue for them," he warned.

Landsberg also shared insights about a potential recalibration for investors, advising a reduced exposure to Big Tech and urging U.S. investors to explore value in overseas markets, criticizing the "myopic" approach often displayed.

USB-C on iPhones, finally!

In compliance with European Union regulations, the Cupertino giant is set to replace its proprietary Lightning charging port with a USB Type-C port on iPhones, according to an earlier report. This should happen as early as with the next iPhones, aka iPhone 15 series, due to be released on September 12. The tech giant, valued at $3 trillion, is aligning its devices with an EU mandate aimed at standardizing charging ports.

The EU law stipulates that by the end of 2024, all mobile phones, tablets, and cameras sold within the union must feature a USB-C charging port. The requirement will expand to include laptops starting in Spring 2026. Designed to minimize environmental waste and save consumers an estimated $247 million yearly, the law is pushing companies like Apple to adapt their technology.

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