Mysterious Bugs Were Used to Hack iPhones and Android Phones and No One Will Talk About It

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Image: Cathryn Virginia/VICE

Google’s elite teams of bug and malware hunters found and disclosed a flurry of high impact vulnerabilities in Chrome, Android, Windows, and iOS last week. The internet giant also said that these various vulnerabilities were all “actively exploited in the wild.” In other words, hackers were using these bugs to actually hack people, which is concerning. 

What’s more, all these vulnerabilities are in some way related to each other, Motherboard has learned. That potentially means the same hackers were using them. According to the disclosure reports, some bugs were in font libraries, and others were used to escape the sandbox in Chrome, and others were used to take control of the whole system, suggesting some of these bugs were part of a chain of vulnerabilities used to exploit victim’s devices.  

So far, very little information has come out about who may have been using the exploits and who they were targeting. Often, bugs in modern software are found and are ethically disclosed by security researchers, which means that they are fixed before they are widely exploited to hack people. In this case, however, we know that the bugs were being used for hacking operations. 

Last year, Google found a series of zero-days—vulnerabilities that at the time of discovery are unknown to the software maker—that spies were using to target the Uighur community. China has conducted a widespread, systemic campaign of physical and technical oppression and surveillance against the Muslim minority. 

“This feels like spy shit.”

Unfortunately, this time we don’t know any details because Google—the only company that has the whole story behind these bugs—has not said much at all about how it found the bugs, who was using them, and whom they were being used against. Notably, an update pushed to iOS 12 (which is two years old) patched the issue on phones dating back to the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6. Often, when updates are pushed to such old devices it means the bug is particularly bad, but, again, we do not know the specifics at this time.

“The fact that they updated iPhone 6 users means it was bad,” said a cybersecurity expert who asked not to be named because he wasn’t allowed…

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