Google researchers have identified a vulnerability that accessed all the database files on the victim’s iPhone used by end-to-end encryption apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and iMessage.
In one of the biggest attacks against iPhone users, researchers working in Google’s Project Zero team earlier discovered several hacked websites that used security flaws in iPhones to attack users who visited these websites.
The malicious websites may have compromised personal files, messages, and real time location data of iPhone users. After they reported their findings to Apple, the Cupertino-based tech giant patched the vulnerabilities.
Later, they also revealed that the users’ chats in WhatsApp and Telegram were also compromised.
“In the earlier posts, we examined how the attackers gained ‘unsandboxed’ code execution as root on iPhones.”
“The implant has access to all the database files (on the victim’s phone) used by popular end-to-end encryption apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and iMessage,” said Ian Beer from Google’s Project Zero.
The implant was primarily focused on stealing files and uploading live location data.
“The implant can upload private files used by all apps on the device,” said the researchers.
The researchers were able to collect five separate, complete and unique iPhone exploit chains, covering almost every version from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12.
“This indicated a group making a sustained effort to hack the users of iPhones in certain communities over a period of at least two years,” said Beer.
The websites delivered their malware indiscriminately and were operational for years, said Google.
“Earlier this year, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) discovered a small collection of hacked websites. The hacked sites were being used in indiscriminate watering hole attacks against their visitors, using iPhone 0-day,” said Beer.
There was no target discrimination as simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack the iPhone, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant.
“We estimate that these sites receive thousands of visitors per week,” said the Google blog post.