Apple recently informed the US State Department that several iPhones issued to its staff had been hacked by an unknown actor. More to the point, the intrusion was reportedly done with the use of Pegasus spyware.
According to Reuters, the threat actor hacked at least nine Department-issued iPhones over a course of several months and targeted officials either based in Uganda or was likely to be in possession of details pertaining to matters happening within the country.
For the uninitiated, Pegasus is spyware created by the Israeli-based firm, NSO Group. The company has been under the crosshairs of both Apple and the US Government, with both entities having taken action against the company, in one form or another. One trait that makes Pegasus harmful is that it uses a zero-click exploit, allowing hackers to access a phone’s text, photos, or even video in order to spy on them. More than that, it can also turn the mobile device into a recording device, all without the knowledge of its owner.
— Norbert Mao (@norbertmao) November 24, 2021
The NSO Group has consistently said that it – as an entity – does not directly conduct “surveillance operations” and that it simply sells its Pegasus software and technology to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. At the time of writing, the group also said in a statement that it was unaware that its tools were being used on US official and that it has cancelled access for certain customers and is also investigating the situation.
On another hand, a State Department spokesperson hinted to Reuters that the timing of the intrusions seemed to fall in line with the US Commerce Department’s recent decision to place NSO Group under the country’s entity list and that could have been the catalyst for the events that have transpired.