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Apple store front. Photo: Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images

Apple released emergency security updates Monday after it was discovered that an Israeli cyber surveillance company's spyware could infect iPhones and other devices without the owner even clicking on a link.

Why it matters: The fix to the intrusion by the NSO Group's Pegasus software came the day before Apple is expected to introduce its latest crop of iPhones. The company touts the security and privacy of its smartphones among its key selling points.

The big picture: The security flaw was discovered by researchers at watchdog group Citizen Lab, which found that the phone of a Saudi political activist had been infected with the Pegasus spyware via iMessage.

  • The device had been hacked using a "zero-click" method that had allowed the spyware to live on the Saudi's phone since February without detection, according to the Washington Post.
  • The same security flaw would enable the software to infect other Apple iPhones, watches and MacBooks, per the Post.

An Apple spokesperson told the New York Times that it is planning to add new spyware barriers to its next software update, due out later this year.

  • Apple's security team has been "working around the clock to develop a fix," the Times writes.

What they're saying: "After identifying the vulnerability used by this exploit for iMessage, Apple rapidly developed and deployed a fix in iOS 14.8 to protect our users," said Ivan Krstić, head of Apple Security Engineering and Architecture, in a statement.

  • "Attacks like the ones described are highly sophisticated, cost millions of dollars to develop, often have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals.
  • "While that means they are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users, we continue to work tirelessly to defend all our customers, and we are constantly adding new protections for their devices and data."

Be smart: "Users of mobile and computing platforms need to make checking for security updates a part of their weekly, if not daily routine," wrote Steve Turner, an analyst at the tech consulting firm Forrester, in a note emailed to Axios.

State of play: The NSO Group's Pegasus software made news earlier this summer after an international consortium of investigative journalists revealed it had become a valuable tool for governments to spy on journalists and critics.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - Technology

Facebook says Apple’s ad changes are hurting its business

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Facebook said Wednesday that changes to Apple’s new privacy terms will continue to cause headwinds for its ads business in the third quarter.

Why it matters: Facebook doesn’t typically provide these types of updates outside of earnings calls. The update signals to investors that the company is seeing numbers in the current quarter that reinforce previous warnings about impact from Apple’s changes.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Sep 21, 2021 - Technology

New iPad mini is this close to replacing your iPhone

Photo: Apple

The new iPad Mini that Apple announced last week has all the hardware needed to be a cheaper alternative to the iPhone, with a larger screen to boot.

  • There's just one thing disqualifying it from the role: Apple makes it hard for you to take traditional calls or dial out.

Special Envoy for Haiti resigns over deportation of migrants and asylum-seekers

Daniel Foote testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on May 26, 2016. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Special Envoy for Haiti on Wednesday resigned from his position, writing in his resignation letter obtained by PBS that he "will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees."

Why it matters: Ambassador Daniel Foote's resignation comes amid heightened anger over the treatment of Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers living in a temporary encampment in Del Rio, Texas — especially after images surfaced of Border Patrol agents whipping at the migrants from horseback.