Israeli Security Firm Claims Spyware Tool Can Harvest iCloud Data in Targeted iPhone Attack

An Israeli security firm claims it has developed a smartphone surveillance tool that can harvest not only a user's local data but also all their device's communications with cloud-based services provided by the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.


According to a report from the Financial Times [paywalled], the latest Pegasus spyware sold by NSO Group is being marketed to potential clients as a way to target data uploaded to the cloud. The tool is said to work on many of the latest iPhones and Android smartphones, and can continue to harvest data even after the tool is removed from the original mobile device.

The new technique is said to copy the authentication keys of services such as Google Drive, Facebook Messenger and iCloud, among others, from an infected phone, allowing a separate server to then impersonate the phone, including its location.

This grants open-ended access to the cloud data of those apps without "prompting 2-step verification or warning email on target device", according to one sales document.

Attackers using the malware are said to be able to access a wealth of private information, including the full history of a target's location data and archived messages or photos, according to people who shared documents with the Financial Times and described a recent product demonstration.

When questioned by the newspaper, NSO denied promoting hacking or mass-surveillance tools for cloud services, but didn't specifically deny that it had developed the capability described in the documents.

In response to the report, Apple told FT that its operating system was "the safest and most secure computing platform in the world. While some expensive tools may exist to perform targeted attacks on a very small number of devices, we do not believe these are useful for widespread attacks against consumers." The company added that it regularly updates its operating system and security settings.

The news raises concerns that such spyware could be used by repressive regimes and other shady attackers to monitor members of the public. In May, for example, WhatsApp disclosed a vulnerability that allowed hackers to remotely exploit a bug in the app's audio call system to access sensitive information on an iPhone or Android device.

Security researchers said that the spyware that took advantage of the WhatsApp flaw featured characteristics of the Pegasus spyware from NSO Group, which maintains that its software, costing millions of dollars, is only sold to responsible governments to help prevent terrorist attacks and criminal investigations.

However, the WhatsApp flaw was used to target a London lawyer who has been involved in lawsuits against the NSO Group, and security researchers believe others could have been targeted as well.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
13 months ago

As they are a company in a fairly western democracy, that will be regularly audited by both government and private regulators and accounting firms, the liklihood of what you're claiming is probably low.

Oh, please.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
their claims about selling it to only legitimate authorities are as filmsy as it gets.
i wonder who audits their claims
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
Not surprised, encryption of iCloud communication and storage has been a frequently mentioned topic. If Apple gets on full encryption, we would all be better off.

Also, can we talk about how Apple isn’t offering iCloud Mac backups yet? Think of how much $ they are leaving on the table. Actually, I’m shocked they aren’t ready for this yet, they would be raking in the cash from people upgrading their storage to do backups.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago

"Responsible governments."

Snowden revelations say they are all uniformly irresponsible when it comes to disrespect of privacy. So it’s all one big kabuki theatre then...
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago


If you use 'Documents in the cloud' then your Mac is effectively backed up already.

I'd have to disagree with that statement - while a synced copy of your documents on iCloud is better than nothing, it is definitely not a backup.

Firstly, Anything that isn't in the synced folders doesn't get copied over to iCloud

Secondly, I believe versions only exist for iWork documents so if you mess up any other kind of document or it gets encrypted by ransomware for example, that messed up copy will immediately sync to iCloud and any other device connected to it and if there are no versions stored then you have lost it

In my view, backups should be immutable and no sync service can replace a backup
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
The cat-and-mouse game continues. There will be a market for this as long as governments don’t trust their citizens and citizens don’t trust their government.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Warns Against Closing MacBooks With a Cover Over the Camera

Friday July 10, 2020 11:12 am PDT by
Apple this month published a support document that warns customers against closing their Mac notebooks with a cover over the camera as it can lead to display damage. Image via Reddit Apple says that the clearance between the display and the keyboard is designed to very tight tolerances, which can be problematic. Covering the camera can also cause issues with automatic brightness and True Tone....

iPhone Users Who Experienced 'Batterygate' Can Now File to Receive Around $25 Settlement From Apple

Monday July 13, 2020 6:50 am PDT by
Earlier this year, Apple agreed to settle a U.S. class action lawsuit that accused the company of "secretly throttling" older iPhone models. Now, eligible iPhone owners are beginning to be notified about their legal rights and options. Under the proposed settlement, Apple will provide a cash payment of approximately $25 to each eligible iPhone owner who submits a claim, with its total payout ...

Apple Moving Forward on Semitransparent Lenses for Upcoming AR Headset

Friday July 10, 2020 7:24 am PDT by
Apple and Foxconn have reached a key milestone in the development of Apple's long-rumored augmented reality headset, with the semitransparent lenses for the device moving from prototype to trial production, reports The Information. Apple is developing the lenses on a single production line at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu in southwestern China, where most of Apple’s iPad production is...

Arm-Intel-PowerPC Universal Binaries Are Possible

Saturday July 11, 2020 1:42 pm PDT by
Casual MacRumors visitors may not realize that we have a very active PowerPC forum where users discuss issues related to PowerPC Macs that have not been produced since 2006. Threads range from hardware upgrades and software options to nostalgia: Photo by AphoticD Apple's recently announced transition to Apple Silicon (Arm) based Macs raised some interesting questions about future support...

Possible 'iPhone 12' Battery Certifications Suggest Lower Capacities Than iPhone 11 Series

Monday July 13, 2020 4:22 am PDT by
MySmartPrice has spotted certifications for three new Apple batteries that it believes could be for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup, despite them being less capacitive than the batteries in the current iPhone 11 series. The batteries are identified with the model numbers A2471, A2431, and A2466, and appear on Safety Korea, China's 3C, and the Danish agency UL Demko. Apple is expected to...

Leaker: 'iPhone 12 Pro' to Come With 6GB of RAM

Friday July 10, 2020 1:59 am PDT by
Later this year, Apple is expected to release four OLED iPhones in three display sizes, including 5.4, 6.7, and two 6.1-inch models. Rumors suggest the 6.7-inch iPhone and one 6.1-inch model will be higher-end devices, and now leaker @L0vetodream has corroborated previous rumors about the internal specs of Apple's upcoming lineup. Rumors suggest Apple will use 5-nanometer A14 chips in its...

Kuo: Apple Silicon Macs to Include 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air This Year, 14.1-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro Models Next Year

Friday July 10, 2020 2:58 am PDT by
At last month's WWDC, Apple officially announced that its Mac computers will be transitioned from Intel x86 to homegrown Apple Silicon chips. Apple said it plans to deliver the first Apple Silicon Mac by the end of the year and complete the transition in about two years. According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro with a form factor similar to the current 13.3-inch...

Google to 'Dramatically' Improve Chrome Impact on Mac Battery Life

Sunday July 12, 2020 1:56 pm PDT by
Google will address long-standing battery life issues, particularly on Mac devices, reports The Wall Street Journal. Chrome will improve "tab throttling" by better prioritizing active tabs and limiting resource drain from tabs open in the background. This is said to have a "dramatic impact on battery and performance." Google has reportedly been performing early tests on Mac laptops in...

Top Stories: iOS 14 Public Beta, iPhone 12 Size Comparison, 14-Inch MacBook Pro Rumors

Saturday July 11, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
After one round of developer beta testing, Apple unleashed iOS and iPadOS 14 to a wider audience this week, opening it up to members of the public beta program. There are lots of changes and new features to check out, but as with any beta, be careful about installing it on your main devices. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Other major stories this week included our ...

Apple Shares Humorous 'Working-From-Home Thing' Video

Monday July 13, 2020 9:31 am PDT by
Apple today shared a funny video focused on the problems that people working from home have to deal with, including noisy children, chaotic schedules, communication issues, and more. The video focuses on showing off Apple products and their capabilities that can be useful when working from home, such as the ability to scan a document with an iPhone, mark up a PDF, Siri Reminders, and more.The...