Apple Says Google Blew iPhone Hacking Report Out of Proportion


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Apple is used to promoting the security of its products in comparison to the competition, but it was on the defensive last week following a report from Google’s Project Zero. According to Google researchers, iOS was the target of a sophisticated attack for two years until Google alerted Apple in early 2019. However, Apple is now seeking to downplay the severity of the attack, claiming Project Zero has blown the whole thing out of proportion. 

The news of Apple’s iPhone vulnerability broke recently with an in-depth report from Project Zero, a group at Google that specializes in uncovering zero-day hacks that threaten internet users. According to the team, a number of websites had deployed hacks that could install malware with root access on the iPhone. The operators of the sites could steal data, monitor phone locations, and even access the user’s on-device password storage. Google said the attacks operated “over a period of at least two years” and covered almost every version of iOS active during that time. 

Apple issued a press release late last week disputing part of Google’s findings. The iPhone maker strenuously objects to Google’s claim that the attacks operated for two years. In fact, Apple says it was closer to two months. Furthermore, Apple says it already knew about the flaws and was conveniently already working on a fix. It’s impossible to verify that claim, but it does sound suspect. Google’s Project Zero researchers are cited in Apple’s official changelog from February as reporting the flaws. 

The timeline of iOS hacks from Project Zero.

Apple also says the attack focused on the Uyghur community, a group of ethnically Turkic Muslims living in western China. Uyghurs have been targeted for persecution and imprisonment by Chinese authorities for years. The government often uses technological means like the iPhone hack to track and investigate the Uyghur population. 

Apple seems to be suggesting that Google wanted to make the flaws look more severe than they were, but Project Zero has traditionally conducted its business in without favoritism. In response to Apple’s criticism, Project Zero has issued a statement standing by its “in-depth research which was written to focus on the technical aspects of these vulnerabilities.”

Google is used to getting publicly chastised for security vulnerabilities — Android is open source, but Apple has the benefit of quietly patching exploits as it finds them in its closed software. Perhaps the iPhone maker is just a little overly sensitive with its new iPhone unveiling this week.

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Microsoft: Russian Hackers Targeted Companies Through IoT Hardware


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The ever-growing network of the internet of things (IoT) can make life more convenient by automating your home and delivering data wherever you are. However, all those internet-connected devices can also provide a massive attack surface for online criminals. We’ve already seen malware that targets IoT hardware, but now Microsoft says it has uncovered a coordinated hacking campaign focused on government, political groups, and charities via devices like printers and VoIP phones. 

Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center says a new wave of IoT hacks began in April of this year. It points the finger at a group known as Fancy Bear or Strontium, which is best known as the perpetrator of high-profile hacks supporting the Russian government. Naturally, Fancy Bear is linked to Russian military intelligence (GRU). Fancy Bear stole files from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 — those documents later appeared on Wikileaks, helping to damage Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Later, it conducted the NotPetya ransomware attack on Ukraine and other countries. 

The new hacking operation takes aim at popular internet of things devices because they often escape normal security scrutiny. According to Microsoft, the hackers went after three popular devices: a VOIP phone, an office printer, and a video decoder. In many cases, these devices connect to the internet but have a default password or outdated security patches. That makes them an ideal entry point for an attacker to gain access to a larger network. From there, Fancy Bear used access to steal high-value data from other computers. 

Don’t pick up — it’s the hackers.

Microsoft only spotted this attack because it has insights into so many corporate networks via Windows software. It detected around 1,400 intrusions via IoT hardware. About 20 percent of the infiltrations have been at non-government organizations, think tanks, and other political organizations. The remaining 80 percent focused on government, military, technology firms, and other entities. The campaign even targeted Olympic organizing committees and anti-doping agencies, both of which have been problems for Russian interests. 

Microsoft offers a raft of suggestions for improving IoT security, which starts with securing approval before plugging in new IoT devices. Unauthorized hardware can circumvent many security measures on a network, as NASA found out recently. Microsoft also suggests setting up secure networks specifically for IoT hardware and monitoring the connections for unusual activity. You can see the full list in Microsoft’s blog post. 

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