Why Apple Just Made a Key Anti-Spyware iPhone Security Update | NBC Chicago
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Why Apple Just Made a Key Anti-Spyware iPhone Security Update

Hidden behind a link in a text message was a highly targeted form of spyware crafted to take advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Logo of the Israeli NSO Group company is displayed on a building where they had offices until few months ago is seen in Herzliya, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. A botched attempt to break into the iPhone of an Arab activist using hitherto unknown espionage software has trigged a global upgrade of Apple's mobile operating system, researchers said Thursday. The spyware took advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system to take complete control of iPhone devices, according to reports published Thursday by the San Francisco-based Lookout smartphone security company and internet watchdog group Citizen Lab. Both reports fingered the NSO Group, an Israeli company with a reputation for flying under the radar, as the author of the spyware.

    The suspicious text message that appeared on Ahmed Mansoor's iPhone promised to reveal details about torture in the United Arab Emirates' prisons. All Mansoor had to do was click the link. 

    Mansoor, a human rights activist, didn't take the bait. Instead, he reported it to Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog, setting off a chain reaction that in two weeks exposed a secretive Israeli cyberespionage firm, defanged a powerful new piece of eavesdropping software and gave millions of iPhone users across the world an extra boost to their digital security. 

    "It feels really good," Mansoor said in an interview from his sand-colored apartment block in downtown Ajman, a small city-state in the United Arab Emirates. 

    Cradling his iPhone to show The Associated Press screenshots of the rogue text, Mansoor said he hoped the developments "could save hundreds of people from being targets." 

    Returning Marine Meets Son For First Time

    [NATL] Returning Marine Meets Son For First Time
    A Tennessee Marine returning from deployment met his newborn son for the first time Thursday. (Published Friday, Sept. 30, 2016)

    Hidden behind the link in the text message was a highly targeted form of spyware crafted to take advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system. 

    Two reports issued Thursday, one by Lookout, a San Francisco mobile security company, and another by Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, outlined how the program could completely compromise a device at the tap of a finger. If Mansoor had touched the link, he would have given his hackers free reign to eavesdrop on calls, harvest messages, activate his camera and drain the phone's trove of personal data. 

    Apple Inc. issued a fix for the vulnerabilities Thursday, just ahead of the reports' release, working at a blistering pace for which the Cupertino, California-based company was widely praised. 

    Arie van Deursen, a professor of software engineering at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said the reports were disturbing. Forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski described the malicious program targeting Mansoor as a "serious piece of spyware." 

    Mom Thwarts Attempted Kidnapping

    [NATL-DFW] Mom Thwarts Attempted Kidnapping

    One Albuquerque, New Mexico mother got the shock of a lifetime when she turned around just in time to see a complete stranger running away with one of her children.

    Quick thinking and protective, the mother was able to chase down 29-year-old Dustin Sherman and wrestle her child from his arms.

    "He was carrying her like he was carrying his own child," the mother said. "He was holding her close you know trying to hold her really close to him and that bothered me really bad."

    Sherman was arrested, and authorities say he has a criminal history that includes battery on a peace officer as well as domestic violence charges.Read more from KOB here.

    (Published Friday, Sept. 30, 2016)

    A soft-spoken man who dresses in traditional white robes, Mansoor has repeatedly drawn the ire of authorities in the United Arab Emirates, calling for a free press and democratic freedoms. He is one of the country's few human rights defenders with an international profile, close links to foreign media and a network of sources. Mansoor's work has, at various times, cost him his job, his passport and even his liberty. 

    Online, Mansoor repeatedly found himself in the crosshairs of electronic eavesdropping operations. Even before the first rogue text message pinged across his phone on Aug. 10, Mansoor already had weathered attacks from two separate brands of commercial spyware. 

    When he shared the suspicious text with Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak, they realized he'd been targeted by a third. 

    Citizen Lab and Lookout both fingered a secretive Israeli firm, NSO Group, as the author of the spyware. Citizen Lab said that past targeting of Mansoor by the United Arab Emirates' government suggested that it was likely behind the latest hacking attempt as well. 

    Executives at the company declined to comment, and a visit to NSO's address in Herzliya showed that the firm had recently vacated its old headquarters — a move recent enough that the building still bore its logo. 

    In a statement released Thursday, which stopped short of acknowledging that the spyware was its own, the NSO Group said its mission was to provide "authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime." 

    The company said it couldn't comment on specific cases. 

    Marczak said he and fellow-researcher John Scott-Railton turned to Lookout for help to pick apart the malicious program, a process which Murray compared to "defusing a bomb." 

    Airlines Reading, Responding to Social Media Rants

    [NATL-DFW] Airlines Reading, Responding to Social Media Rants
    A new study says airlines are reading posts made by customers complaining over delayed or canceled flights and poor service, and are responding to those messages. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has a team tracking Twitter, Facebook and other online sites 24 hours a day. When a customer vents about a problem, a representative reaches out to them. "The approach is really how can we help, wait a minute we hate to hear that.... so what is going on, give us some information and let's see what we can do to straighten this out," said Lisa Goode, with Southwest Airlines. Social media teams help airlines by rebooking customers or by helping keep them more calm by relaying information when problems crop up. (Published Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016)

    "It is amazing the level they've gone through to avoid detection," Murray said of the software's makers. "They have a hair-trigger self-destruct." 

    Working over a two-week period, the researchers found that Mansoor had been targeted by an unusually sophisticated piece of software which some have valued at $1 million. He told AP he was amused by the idea that so much money was being poured into watching him. 

    "If you would give me probably 10 percent of that I would write the report about myself for you!" 

    The apparent discovery of Israeli-made spyware being used to target a dissident in the United Arab Emirates raises awkward questions for both countries. The use of Israeli technology to police its own citizens is an uncomfortable strategy for an Arab country with no formal diplomatic ties to the Jewish state. And Israeli complicity in a cyberattack on an Arab dissident would seem to run counter to the country's self-description as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. 

    Summer Camps For Adults Throughout the Year

    [NATL] Summer Camps For Adults Throughout the Year
    Fall may have officially arrived, but the summer camp experience is still going for some. More and more adults are reliving the summer camp experience during fall and spring. More than a million adults a year are indulging in camps according to the American Camp Association. (Published Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016)

    There are awkward questions, too, for Francisco Partners, the private equity firm which owns the NSO Group. Francisco is only an hour's drive from the headquarters of Apple, whose products the cybersecurity firm is accused of hacking. 

    Messages left with Francisco partners' offices in London and San Francisco went unreturned. Israeli and Emirati authorities did not return calls seeking comment. 

    Attorney Eitay Mack, who advocates for more transparency in Israeli arms exports, said his country's sales of surveillance software are not closely policed. 

    He also noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cultivated warmer ties with Arab Gulf states. 

    Brewer Wants to Sell Weed-Infused Beer Nationwide

    [NATL-DFW] Brewer Wants to Sell Weed-Infused Beer Nationwide
    A Colorado based brewery plans to market their cannabis-infused beer across the country. One question: does it get you high? (Published Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016)

    "Israel is looking for allies," Mack said. "And when Israel finds allies, it does not ask too many questions."