REUTERS: Apple plans to fix a flaw that a security firm said may have left more than half a billion iPhones vulnerable to hackers.
The bug, which also exists on iPads with iPhones, was discovered by ZecOps, a San Francisco-based mobile security forensics company, while it was investigating a sophisticated cyber-attack against a client that took place in late 2019.
Zuk Avraham, ZecOps’ chief executive, said he found evidence the vulnerability was exploited in at least six cyber-security break-ins.
An Apple spokesman acknowledged that a vulnerability exists in Apple’s software for email on iPhones and iPads, known as the Mail app, and that the company had developed a fix, which will be rolled out in a forthcoming update on millions of devices it has sold globally.
Apple declined to comment on Avraham’s research, which was published on Wednesday, that suggests the flaw could be triggered from afar and that it had already been exploited by hackers against high-profile users.
Avraham said he found evidence that a malicious program was taking advantage of the vulnerability in Apple’s iOS mobile operating system as far back as January 2018.
To execute the hack, Avraham said victims would be sent an apparently blank email message through the Mail app forcing a crash and reset. The crash opened the door for hackers to steal other data on the device, such as photos and contact details.
ZecOps claims the vulnerability allowed hackers to remotely steal data off iPhones even if they were running recent versions of iOS. By itself, the flaw could have given access to whatever the Mail app had access to, including confidential messages.
Avraham said he suspected that the hacking technique was part of a chain of malicious programs, the rest undiscovered, which could have given an attacker full remote access. Apple declined to comment on that prospect.
ZecOps found the Mail app hacking technique was used against a client last year. Avraham described the targeted client as a “Fortune 500 North American technology company,” but declined to name it.
They also found evidence of related attacks against employees of five other companies in Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
Avraham based most of his conclusions on data from “crash reports,” which are generated when programs fail in mid-task on a device.
He was then able to recreate a technique that caused the controlled crashes.
Two independent security researchers who reviewed ZecOps’ discovery found the evidence credible, but said they had not yet fully recreated its findings.