Flaw in iPhone, iPads may have allowed hackers to steal data for years

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO: Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is planning 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, was discovered by Zuk Avraham, chief executive of San Francisco-based mobile security forensics company ZecOps, while investigating a sophisticated cyberattack against a client in late 2019. Avraham said he found evidence the vulnerability was exploited in at least six cybersecurity 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. He could not determine who the hackers were and Reuters was unable to independently verify his claim.
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.
The bug, which also exists on iPads, was discovered by Zuk Avraham, chief executive of San Francisco-based mobile security forensics company ZecOps, while investigating a sophisticated cyberattack against a client in late 2019. Avraham said he found evidence the vulnerability was exploited in at least six cybersecurity 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. He could not determine who the hackers were and Reuters was unable to independently verify his claim.
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.
While Apple is largely viewed within the cybersecurity industry as having a high standard for digital security, any successful hacking technique against the iPhone could affect millions due to the device’s global popularity. In 2019, Apple said there were about 900 million iPhones in active use.
Bill Marczak, a security researcher with Citizen Lab, a Canada-based academic security research group, called the vulnerability discovery “scary.”
“A lot of times, you can take comfort from the fact that hacking is preventable,” said Marczak. “With this bug, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a PhD in cybersecurity, this will eat your lunch.” — Reuters