iOS zero-day let SolarWinds hackers compromise fully updated iPhones

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The word ZERO-DAY is hidden amidst a screen filled with ones and zeroes.

The Russian state hackers who orchestrated the SolarWinds supply chain attack last year exploited an iOS zero-day as part of a separate malicious email campaign aimed at stealing Web authentication credentials from Western European governments, according to Google and Microsoft.

In a post Google published on Wednesday, researchers Maddie Stone and Clement Lecigne said a “likely Russian government-backed actor” exploited the then-unknown vulnerability by sending messages to government officials over LinkedIn.

Moscow, Western Europe, and USAID

Attacks targeting CVE-2021-1879, as the zero-day is tracked, redirected users to domains that installed malicious payloads on fully updated iPhones. The attacks coincided with a campaign by the same hackers who delivered malware to Windows users, the researchers said.

The campaign closely tracks to one Microsoft disclosed in May. In that instance, Microsoft said that Nobelium—the name the company uses to identify the hackers behind the SolarWinds supply chain attack—first managed to compromise an account belonging to USAID, a US government agency that administers civilian foreign aid and development assistance. With control of the agency’s account for online marketing company Constant Contact, the hackers could send emails that appeared to use addresses known to belong to the US agency.

The federal government has attributed last year’s supply chain attack to hackers working for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (abbreviated as SVR). For more than a decade, the SVR has conducted malware campaigns targeting governments, political think tanks, and other organizations in countries like Germany, Uzbekistan, South Korea, and the US. Targets have included the US State Department and the White House in 2014. Other names used to identify the group include APT29, the Dukes, and Cozy Bear.

In an email, Shane Huntley, the head of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, confirmed the connection between the attacks involving USAID and the iOS zero-day, which resided in the WebKit browser engine.

“These are two different campaigns, but based on our visibility, we consider the actors behind the…

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