Cybersecurity researchers at Citizen Lab have discovered new spyware that infects Apple devices through iMessage. Victims are infected through a zero-click exploit, meaning that the spyware can affect your device even if you don’t open or download a message attachment. Apple advises all iPhone, Apple Watch, and Mac users to perform a software update to patch the issue.
Citizen Lab and Apple confirm that the spyware, called Pegasus, is a product of Israeli spyware company NSO Group. And yes, product is a key word here—Pegasus is regularly licensed by governments to surveil potential terrorists and criminals.
But today’s exploit was not discovered on a terrorist’s iPhone. Instead, it was found to infect the phone of a Saudi dissident, likely a journalist or activist. This isn’t the first instance of governments (or powerful non-government bodies) using Pegasus to keep track of dissidents. The spyware infected a Mexican journalist’s phone two days before he was killed for investigating a cartel, and it was used to track associates of the murdered Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia.
NSO Group insists that it follows strict human rights practices and only sells spyware to “legitimate” governments. It also claims that U.S. citizens will never be infected by Pegasus or other NSO-developed spyware.
Regardless, Apple advises all of its customers to update their iPhone, Mac, or Apple Watch. The following devices are vulnerable to this exploit, according to Apple:
Note: All iPhones with iOS versions prior to 14.8, All Mac computers with operating system versions prior to OSX Big Sur 11.6, Security Update 2021-005 Catalina, and all Apple Watches prior to watchOS 7.6.2.
You can update your iPhone or Mac from its Settings. To update your Apple Watch, install the latest version of iOS on your iPhone, open the Apple Watch app, tap the My Watch tab, open General, and go to Software Update.