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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

UN Security Council meeting on Israel-Gaza as fighting enters 7th day

Smoke billows from a fire following Israeli airstrikes on multiple targets in Gaza on May 16. Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations Security Council was preparing to meet Sunday, as the aerial bombardment between Israel and Hamas between entered a seventh day.

The latest: Four Palestinians died in airstrikes early Sunday, as Israeli forces bombed the home of Gaza's Hamas chief, Yehya al-Sinwar, per Reuters.

6 hours ago - World

In photos: Protests in U.S., across the world over Israeli–Palestinian conflict

A protest march in support of Palestinians near the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of people rallied across the U.S. and the world Saturday following days of violence in Gaza and Israel that's killed at least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children, and eight Israelis, per AP.

The big picture: Most demonstrations were in support of Palestinians. There were tense scenes between pro-Israeli government protesters and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Winnipeg, Canada, and Leipzig, Germany, but no arrests were made, CBS News and DW.com report.

Updated 14 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

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