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

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
16 mins ago - Economy & Business

The dangerous instability of school re-openings

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Schools across the country have flip-flopped between in-person and remote learning — and that instability is taking a toll on students' ability to learn and their mental health.

The big picture: While companies were able to set long timelines for their return, schools — under immense political and social strain — had to rush to figure out how to reopen. The cobbled-together approach has hurt students, parents and teachers alike.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump doesn't have a second-term economic plan

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump has not laid out an economic agenda for his second term, despite the election being just eight days away.

Why it matters: This is unprecedented in modern presidential campaigns, and makes it harder for undecided voters to make an informed choice.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
57 mins ago - Energy & Environment
Column / Harder Line

How Trump’s energy endgame could go

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Expect President Trump to redouble his efforts loosening regulations and questioning climate-change science should he win reelection next month.

Driving the news: A second Trump administration would supercharge efforts by certain states, countries and companies to address global warming. But some wildcards could have a greener tinge.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!