The potential impact of the latest attack on iPhones is massive, not to mention hugely concerning for every user of Apple’s famous smartphone.
That simply visiting a website can lead to your iPhone being hacked silently by some unknown party is worrying enough. But given that, according to Google researchers, it’s possible for the hackers to access encrypted messages on WhatsApp, iMessage, Telegram and others, the attacks undermine the security promised by those apps. It’s a stark reminder that should Apple’s iOS be compromised by hidden malware, encryption can be entirely undone. Own the operating system, own everything inside.
Among the trove of data released by Google researcher Ian Beer on the attacks was detail on the “monitoring implant” hackers installed on the iPhone. He noted that it had access to all the database files on the victim’s phone used by those end-to-end encrypted apps. Those databases “contain the unencrypted, plain-text of the messages sent and received using the apps.”
The implant would also enable hackers to snoop on Gmail and Google Hangouts, contacts and photos. The hackers could also watch where users were going with a live GPS location tracker. And the malware stole the “keychain” where passwords, such as those for all remembered Wi-Fi points, are stored.
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Shockingly, according to Beer, the hackers didn’t even bother encrypting the data they were stealing, making a further mockery of encrypted apps. “Everything is in the clear. If you’re connected to an unencrypted Wi-Fi network, this information is being broadcast to everyone around you, to your network operator and any intermediate network hops to the command and control server,” the Google researcher wrote. “This means that not only is the end-point of the end-to-end encryption offered by messaging apps compromised; the attackers then send all the contents of the end-to-end encrypted messages in plain text over the network to their server.”