Tuesday, August 30, 2016

iPhone spyware creates security concern

A recent Associated Press report reveals just how easy it can be for some spyware to latch onto your iPhone. Here’s a bit of the report:
When Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights advocate in UAE, saw a suspicious message about prison torture on his phone, he wisely avoided clicking the suggested link. Instead, he reported the message to Citizen Lab, an Internet watchdog group.
The reveal led to the exposure of a new eavesdropping tool being developed by an international cyber espionage outfit and allowed millions of iPhone users around the world a reason to breath a little easier.
As the march toward a totally mobile-connected international society continues, concerns about cyber security march alongside apace. Mansoor is far from the only smartphone user worried about being a target. Unfortunately, he’s one of a relative few who are in any way educated about the actual risks.
Not knowing the risks is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it leads to increased vulnerability to attack and tracking. People believe there are “bad guys” out there, but they’re not sure what to look for, so they fall for what should be the most obvious attacks and tricks.
Meanwhile, other folks are too vigilant, worried about every little thing, again because they don’t really know what might be wrong or where the danger really lies. This leaves both groups inherently vulnerable to black hat programmers, spammers, and spyware manufacturers.
But that’s not the worst news, especially for Apple. The message revealed a severe weakness in Apple’s mobile OS. According to two independent mobile security companies, the program could “completely compromise” any device with a single tap of the finger. Had Mansoor opted to open the file, he would have given hackers virtual control of his phone, allowing them to listen to calls, gather messages, and use his camera against his will – and without his knowledge.
That revelation sent shockwaves through the consumer tech marketplace. People are generally not prepared for that sort of reality, and this case hit harder than most. Apple jumped on the problem quickly, sending out a “fix” before the report hit the press, though the information had been leaked on tech sites before the official announcement. That, in and of itself, reveals a PR problem in today’s digital age. Getting ahead of the narrative will almost always be a race in which someone else has a head start.

David Firester is an experienced intelligence analyst.


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