Apple Not Trying Hard Enough to Protect Users Against Surveillance, Researchers Say

Following the news of widespread commercial hacking spyware on targeted iPhones, a large number of security researchers are now saying that Apple could do more to protect its users (via Wired).

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Earlier this week, it was reported that journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists around the world had been targeted by governments using phone malware made by the surveillance firm NSO Group known as "Pegasus."

Now, security researchers are stating that Apple could and should do more to protect its users against advanced surveillance tools like Pegasus. Independent security researcher Cedric Owens told Wired:

It definitely shows challenges in general with mobile device security and investigative capabilities these days. I also think seeing both Android and iOS zero-click infections by NSO shows that motivated and resourced attackers can still be successful despite the amount of control Apple applies to its products and ecosystem.

The security community has frequently criticized Apple for its limits on the ability to conduct forensic investigations into the security of iOS and the use of monitoring tools. A greater level of access to the operating system itself would, they claim, help to catch attacks and vulnerabilities more easily. For example, combating spyware like Pegasus would need access to read a device's filesystem, the ability to examine which processes are running, access to system logs, and more.

Android also places limits on "observability," but the locked-down nature of iOS, in particular, has drawn the ire of security researchers because Apple has heavily leaned into its focus on privacy and strong security protections, especially compared to other platforms. SentinelOne threat researcher Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade commented:

The truth is that we are holding Apple to a higher standard precisely because they're doing so much better. Android is a free-for-all. I don't think anyone expects the security of Android to improve to a point where all we have to worry about are targeted attacks with zero-day exploits.

Johns Hopkins University cryptographer Matthew Green similarly said: "Apple is trying, but the problem is they aren't trying as hard as their reputation would imply." iOS security researcher Will Strafach suggested that there are many options open for Apple to allow observation and imaging of iOS devices to catch bad actors in a safe environment.

On the other hand, there is a level of concern in the security community that more openness and an increased number of system indicators could inadvertently give attackers more leverage. For example, there are already suspicious applications on macOS that antivirus tools cannot fully remove since the system gives them a heightened level of trust, potentially by mistake. It is likely that any new system privileges in iOS would likewise be used by rogue analysis tools.

Nevertheless, the discovery of Pegasus and its severity is prompting discourse around device security and calls for Apple to do more to prevent surveillance, as well as discussion around the potential need for a government-supported global ban on private spyware.

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Top Rated Comments

eicca Avatar
39 months ago
Oh really? What do these same researchers have to say about Google, Amazon, Facebook et al?
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Phil77354 Avatar
39 months ago
Interesting and a reminder that these issues are going to impact everyone regardless of platform.

If this helps to motivate Apple to step up their efforts, then I'm all for that!
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
edgonzalez32 Avatar
39 months ago
I swear to god, most of you don't even bother reading the articles that are linked to these posts.


infections by NSO shows that motivated and resourced attackers can still be successful despite the amount of control Apple applies to its products and ecosystem.
That's a very valid observation. Apple claims that the system and app store is locked down for security, yet this happens. I'm not saying they need to be perfect, but just for a second take your fanboy hat off and read that. That's a valid criticism.

Also this

“The truth is that we are holding Apple to a higher standard precisely because they're doing so much better,” says SentinelOne principal threat researcher Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade. “Android is a free-for-all. I don't think anyone expects the security of Android to improve to a point where all we have to worry about are targeted attacks with zero-day exploits.”
Again, valid. I mean Jesus are you guys incapable of reading and just having a discussion? Nobody is saying to hate on apple. You know what makes the things you love better? Criticism and feedback. You know what makes me a better graphic designer? Criticism. How am I supposed to get better if all people do is praise me? You can STILL LOVE your precious Apple products and criticize them at the same time.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
lkrupp Avatar
39 months ago

Oh really? What do these same researchers have to say about Google, Amazon, Facebook et al?
Apple is the go-to target. If you write a negative screed abut Apple it gets millions of clicks. If you say Facebook sucks no one cares.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nikaru Avatar
39 months ago
"A greater level of access to the operating system itself would, they claim, help to catch attacks and vulnerabilities more easily. "

Sure...just like making easier for thieves to enter my home, I actually make it safer because it is easier to catch them.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Just sayin... Avatar
39 months ago
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: unless and until Apple provides full, end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups, their privacy/security words are merely “marketing-speak”.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-fbi-icloud-exclusive-idUSKBN1ZK1CT
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)