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A Brazillian crowd records a Luan Santana concert on iPhones in August, 2019. Photo by Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

According to a report from Google's security research team Project Zero, hacked websites implanted surveillance software onto iPhone users between 2016 and their discovery in February of this year.

Threat level: Project Zero alerted Apple in February to attacks they found, and Apple patched the security flaws fueling the atttacks that month. If you use the most current version of the operating system, you are protected from these attacks, and the surveillance software only survived until a victim restarted their phone.

Details: According to the report written by Project Zero's Ian Beer, the malicious websites have been stringing together vulnerabilities in Apple's security for models as early as the 5S in different ways since 2016, changing tactics whenever the operating system was updated.

  • Google found a total of five different chains of vulnerabilities, making use of a total of 14 vulnerabilities.
  • The sites would then install surveillance software onto any phone that visited, making no attempt to limit the spread of the malware beyond the whoever visited the sites.
  • The sites still receive thousands of visitors a week, by Google's estimation.

The big picture: Though the report doesn't document which sites delivered the attacks (or who set the sites up), they likely impacted large numbers of victims.

  • Attacks like this are expensive to acquire — on the open market, methods to secretly install software on iPhones can cost millions of dollars — so they are typically used in very narrow attacks.
  • The breadth of this incident was surprising, and could raise public questions about Apple's reputation (and claims) for superior smartphone security and privacy.

Why it matters: What sets this incident apart is that the iPhone vulnerabilities were used to indiscriminately hack phones in bulk.

  • That's rare, and could be a black eye for Apple.
  • But severe vulnerabilities will never be totally preventable. Google and Apple have both seen potent vulnerabilities in the past, and will see them again.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

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