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
27 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
27 months ago
Googles mission statement is to exploit it's users. Hello Kettle.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AlterZgo Avatar
27 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
27 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
27 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
27 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)

Top Stories

iCloud General Feature

iCloud+'s New Custom Email Domain Feature Now Available in Beta

Wednesday August 25, 2021 7:48 am PDT by
Starting with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey, users with a paid iCloud+ storage plan can personalize their iCloud email address with a custom domain name, such as johnny@appleseed.com, and the feature is now available in beta. iCloud+ subscribers interested in setting up a custom email domain can visit the beta.icloud.com website, select "Account Settings" under their name, and select ...
original iphone

Phil Schiller Says iPhone Was 'Earth-Shattering' Ten Years Ago and Remains 'Unmatched' Today

Monday January 9, 2017 7:15 am PST by
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller sat down with tech journalist Steven Levy for a wide-ranging interview about the smartphone's past, present, and future. The report first reflects upon the iPhone's lack of support for third-party apps in its first year. The argument inside Apple was split between whether the iPhone should be a closed...
iphone 12 colors 2021

iPhone 12 Colors: Deciding on The Right Color

Thursday November 5, 2020 8:35 am PST by
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro arrived in October 2020 in a range of color options, with entirely new hues available on both devices, as well as some popular classics. The 12 and 12 Pro have different color choices, so if you have your heart set on a particular shade, you might not be able to get your preferred model in that color. iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone...
maxresdefault

'Being James Bond' Retrospective Will Be Free to Watch Through Apple TV App

Tuesday August 31, 2021 8:25 am PDT by
Update 9/7/21: "Being James Bond" is now available to watch through the Apple TV app. Ahead of the theatrical release of James Bond film "No Time To Die" on October 8 in the United States, a 45-minute retrospective titled "Being James Bond" will be available to watch for free through the Apple TV app, according to Deadline. The story from MGM is said to feature Daniel Craig reflecting ...
maxresdefault

New MacBook Pro Models Coming at WWDC, Suggests Leaker

Monday May 24, 2021 1:27 pm PDT by
New MacBook Pro models are coming at WWDC, according to leaker Jon Prosser who has a mixed track record when it comes to predicting Apple's plans. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Prosser provided no additional information, but there are new 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models in the works. The new MacBook Pros will feature the most radical redesign to the MacBook Pro ...
calculatorapp

iOS 11 Bug: Typing 1+2+3 Quickly in the Calculator App Won't Get You 6

Tuesday October 24, 2017 2:03 pm PDT by
A bug in the built-in Calculator app in iOS 11 is getting some major attention this week, despite the fact that it's been around since iOS 11 was in beta testing. At issue is a calculator animation that causes some symbols to be ignored when calculations are entered in rapid succession. You can try it for yourself: Type 1+2+3 and then the equals sign into the Calculator app quickly. Due to...
iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2

Full iPhone 13 Feature Breakdown: Everything Rumors Say We Can Expect

Tuesday August 31, 2021 7:50 am PDT by
With the launch of Apple's iPhone 13 lineup believed to be just a few weeks away, we have compiled all of the coherent rumors from our coverage over the past year to build a full picture of the features and upgrades coming to the company's new smartphones. For clarity, only explicit improvements, upgrades, and new features compared to the iPhone 12 lineup are listed. It is worth noting that...
iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2

Kuo: iPhone 13 to Feature LEO Satellite Communications to Make Calls and Texts Without Cellular Coverage

Sunday August 29, 2021 7:39 am PDT by
The iPhone 13 will feature low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication connectivity to allow users to make calls and send messages in areas without 4G or 5G coverage, according to the reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a note to investors, seen by MacRumors, Kuo explained that the iPhone 13 lineup will feature hardware that is able to connect to LEO satellites. If enabled with the relevant...
studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
Top Stories 75 Thumbnail

Top Stories: Last-Minute iPhone 13 Rumors, Apple Announces App Store Changes, and More

Saturday September 4, 2021 6:00 am PDT by
The finish line is in sight! Apple's annual iPhone event is likely just a week or so away and all eyes will be on the company as it unveils the next version of its most popular product line. With any luck, we'll also see the next-generation Apple Watch and perhaps even some new AirPods. Other news this week saw Apple making some more changes to its App Store policies in response to a...