Apple Is Notifying Users of ‘Mercenary Spyware’ Attacks

Apple is notifying users in 92 countries of targeted attacks against them, calling them "mercenary spyware" attacks....
Apple Is Notifying Users of ‘Mercenary Spyware’ Attacks
Written by Matt Milano
  • Apple is notifying users in 92 countries of targeted attacks against them, calling them “mercenary spyware” attacks.

    According to EconomicTimes, Apple has notified users that their iPhones have been “targeted by a mercenary spyware attack that is trying to remotely compromise the iPhone.”

    Apple’s notification goes on to say:

    “This attack is likely targeting you specifically because of who you are or what you do. Although it’s never possible to achieve absolute certainty when detecting such attacks, Apple has high confidence in this warning — please take it seriously.”

    Apple’s threat notification support page provides additional details regarding who is likely to be targeted by such attacks.

    Apple threat notifications are designed to inform and assist users who may have been individually targeted by mercenary spyware attacks, likely because of who they are or what they do. Such attacks are vastly more complex than regular cybercriminal activity and consumer malware, as mercenary spyware attackers apply exceptional resources to target a very small number of specific individuals and their devices. Mercenary spyware attacks cost millions of dollars and often have a short shelf life, making them much harder to detect and prevent. The vast majority of users will never be targeted by such attacks.

    According to public reporting and research by civil society organisations, technology firms and journalists, individually targeted attacks of such exceptional cost and complexity have historically been associated with state actors, including private companies developing mercenary spyware on their behalf, such as Pegasus from the NSO Group. Though deployed against a very small number of individuals – often journalists, activists, politicians and diplomats – mercenary spyware attacks are ongoing and global. Since 2021, we have sent Apple threat notifications multiple times a year as we have detected these attacks, and to date we have notified users in over 150 countries in total. The extreme cost, sophistication and worldwide nature of mercenary spyware attacks makes them some of the most advanced digital threats in existence today. As a result, Apple does not attribute the attacks or resulting threat notifications to any specific attackers or geographical regions.

    Hacking phones has become a big business, with companies like NSO Group selling their services to authoritarian governments and intelligence agencies around the world. Apple and Google have been working to stay one step ahead, with threat notifications being an important part protecting users.

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