Apple Disputes Some Details of Google's Project Zero Report on iOS Security Vulnerabilities [Updated]

Google's Project Zero last week shared details about multiple serious iOS vulnerabilities that allowed malicious websites to access a victim's phone. There were a total of 14 vulnerabilities that were being exploited, and while those have now been fixed, some of the security holes were abused for several years.

Apple today responded to Google's Project Zero blog post in an effort to address customer concerns with all of the facts.

trio iphones ios
Apple says the attack was "narrowly-focused" rather than a broad-based exploit of iPhones as described. Fewer than a dozen websites targeting Uighur Muslims were affected, according to Apple. Further, Apple says that Google created a false impression of mass exploitation, causing fear among iPhone owners.

Google also got the length of the attacks wrong. Apple says the websites were operational for approximately two months rather than two years, with the vulnerabilities fixed 10 days after Apple learned about them. Fixes were already in the works when Google approached Apple.

Apple's full letter is included below:

Last week, Google published a blog about vulnerabilities that Apple fixed for iOS users in February. We've heard from customers who were concerned by some of the claims, and we want to make sure all of our customers have the facts.

First, the sophisticated attack was narrowly focused, not a broad-based exploit of iPhones "en masse" as described. The attack affected fewer than a dozen websites that focus on content related to the Uighur community. Regardless of the scale of the attack, we take the safety and security of all users extremely seriously.

Google's post, issued six months after iOS patches were released, creates the false impression of "mass exploitation" to "monitor the private activities of entire populations in real time," stoking fear among all iPhone users that their devices had been compromised. This was never the case.

Second, all evidence indicates that these website attacks were only operational for a brief period, roughly two months, not "two years" as Google implies. We fixed the vulnerabilities in question in February -- working extremely quickly to resolve the issue just 10 days after we learned about it. When Google approached us, we were already in the process of fixing the exploited bugs.

Security is a never-ending journey and our customers can be confident we are working for them. iOS security is unmatched because we take end-to-end responsibility for the security of our hardware and software. Our product security teams around the world are constantly iterating to introduce new protections and patch vulnerabilities as soon as they're found. We will never stop our tireless work to keep our users safe.

According to Google, the websites in question that targeted ‌iPhone‌ users were able to steal private data like messages, photos, and GPS location in real time with little effort after a visitor went to an infected website.

Google believes thousands of visitors accessed these websites per week over two years, with the vulnerability present in iOS 10, iOS 11, and iOS 12. Apple addressed the issues in iOS 12.1.4 back in February 2019.

In a statement to The Verge, Google said that it stands by its original report despite Apple's comments.

Project Zero posts technical research that is designed to advance the understanding of security vulnerabilities, which leads to better defensive strategies. We stand by our in-depth research which was written to focus on the technical aspects of these vulnerabilities. We will continue to work with Apple and other leading companies to help keep people safe online.

Top Rated Comments

Khedron Avatar
38 months ago
Apple is just spinning their standard "a small number of customers were affected" narrative

If they genuinely disagreed with Google's claims they'd lawyer up
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
sulpfiction Avatar
38 months ago
Googles mission statement is to exploit it's users. Hello Kettle.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AlterZgo Avatar
38 months ago
“Don’t be evil...” unless it’s an opportunity to trash your strongest competitor, then go head and lie, fabricate stuff, misstate and exaggerate.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gnomeisland Avatar
38 months ago
Hope Apple does this to google. Finds vulnerabilities and work their propaganda to hurt Google
I hope they don’t. It’s very unethical. However if it was at all intentional on Google’s part I hope it gets included in their various on-going anti trust investigations.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
NickName99 Avatar
38 months ago
And now we know why Google didn’t release a list of the websites affected, and why they waited until right before the iPhone 11 release to talk about it.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gnomeisland Avatar
38 months ago
While I generally think Apple is one of the most ethical corporations ATM, I’m not sure who to believe.

If Apple’s right, then Google’s misrepresentations are damaging, bordering on libel coming from a close competitor. Their reports did a lot of damage to the narrative that iOS is more secure than Android (not that Android hasn’t come a long way).
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

Apple Watch Series 7 Starlight Midnight

Standard Apple Watch Series 8 Rumored to Feature Same Design as Series 7

Friday August 5, 2022 7:46 am PDT by
The standard 41mm and 45mm models of the Apple Watch Series 8 will feature the same design as the Apple Watch Series 7, according to Twitter user @ShrimpApplePro, who was first to reveal that iPhone 14 Pro models would feature a new pill-and-hole display. Titanium will not be an option for the standard Apple Watch Series 8 models either, according to @ShrimpApplePro, but Bloomberg's Mark...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Front and Back MacRumors Exclusive

Five iPhone 14 Rumors You May Have Missed

Thursday August 4, 2022 6:05 am PDT by
With August upon us, the countdown is officially on. We're just weeks away from when we're expecting Apple to announce the iPhone 14 lineup. Rumors of the next iPhone start early in the year, and as a result, some details about the upcoming device sometimes get lost in the crowd. Exclusive MacRumors iPhone 14 Pro renders by graphic designer Ian Zelbo To help MacRumors readers, we've created a ...
oneplus 10t and iphone 13 pro

Camera Comparison: The New OnePlus 10T vs. iPhone 13 Pro Max

Wednesday August 3, 2022 8:30 am PDT by
Android-based smartphone company OnePlus today announced the launch of its newest device, the OnePlus 10T, which we were able to check out ahead of time. The OnePlus 10T, priced starting at $649, boasts upgraded camera technology, so we thought we'd pit it against the iPhone 13 Pro Max to see just how it measures up. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The OnePlus 10T...
banish safari app pop ups

New iOS App Blocks Those Annoying 'Open in App' Pop-Ups in Safari

Friday August 5, 2022 2:47 am PDT by
You've probably experienced visiting a website like Reddit or LinkedIn on your iPhone only to be greeted with an annoying, almost full-screen pop-up urging you to view the content in their app instead of on the website. It's a common practice for websites that have accompanying iOS apps to push users to open (if they already have the app installed) or download their app from the App Store to ...
apple watch series 7 titanium

Apple Watch Edition Begins Selling Out Ahead of Series 8 Launch

Tuesday August 2, 2022 7:55 am PDT by
Apple Watch Edition models are beginning to sell out just weeks before the Apple Watch Series 8 lineup is expected to be announced. Several of the high-end Apple Watch Series 7 models with titanium casings are listed as "currently unavailable" on Apple's online store in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and select other countries. In the United States, availability of 41mm...