Why Apple Just Made a Key Anti-Spyware iPhone Security Update | NBC 6 South Florida
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Why Apple Just Made a Key Anti-Spyware iPhone Security Update

Hidden behind a link in a text message was a highly targeted form of spyware crafted to take advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Logo of the Israeli NSO Group company is displayed on a building where they had offices until few months ago is seen in Herzliya, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. A botched attempt to break into the iPhone of an Arab activist using hitherto unknown espionage software has trigged a global upgrade of Apple's mobile operating system, researchers said Thursday. The spyware took advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system to take complete control of iPhone devices, according to reports published Thursday by the San Francisco-based Lookout smartphone security company and internet watchdog group Citizen Lab. Both reports fingered the NSO Group, an Israeli company with a reputation for flying under the radar, as the author of the spyware.

    The suspicious text message that appeared on Ahmed Mansoor's iPhone promised to reveal details about torture in the United Arab Emirates' prisons. All Mansoor had to do was click the link. 

    Mansoor, a human rights activist, didn't take the bait. Instead, he reported it to Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog, setting off a chain reaction that in two weeks exposed a secretive Israeli cyberespionage firm, defanged a powerful new piece of eavesdropping software and gave millions of iPhone users across the world an extra boost to their digital security. 

    "It feels really good," Mansoor said in an interview from his sand-colored apartment block in downtown Ajman, a small city-state in the United Arab Emirates. 

    Cradling his iPhone to show The Associated Press screenshots of the rogue text, Mansoor said he hoped the developments "could save hundreds of people from being targets." 

    Crowd Sings 'We Shall Overcome' at MLK Memorial

    [NATL-DC] Crowd Sings 'We Shall Overcome' at MLK Memorial
    Thousands of people across the country paid homage Monday to Martin Luther King Jr. At a wreath-laying ceremony at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the crowd sang "We Shall Overcome" after walking the wreath to an area in front of the statue. (Published Monday, Jan. 16, 2017)

    Hidden behind the link in the text message was a highly targeted form of spyware crafted to take advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system. 

    Two reports issued Thursday, one by Lookout, a San Francisco mobile security company, and another by Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, outlined how the program could completely compromise a device at the tap of a finger. If Mansoor had touched the link, he would have given his hackers free reign to eavesdrop on calls, harvest messages, activate his camera and drain the phone's trove of personal data. 

    Apple Inc. issued a fix for the vulnerabilities Thursday, just ahead of the reports' release, working at a blistering pace for which the Cupertino, California-based company was widely praised. 

    Arie van Deursen, a professor of software engineering at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said the reports were disturbing. Forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski described the malicious program targeting Mansoor as a "serious piece of spyware." 

    Thieves Steal Oversized Teddy Bears From Flower Shop

    [NATL] Thieves Steal Oversized Teddy Bears From Flower Shop
    Police in Marietta, Oklahoma are looking for two thieves who carried out an unusual heist. The pair stole nine life-sized stuffed animals after smashing into a flower shop. Surveillance video shows a suspect in a black hoodie hammering out windows and stealing several large stuffed animals. (Published Friday, Jan. 13, 2017)

    A soft-spoken man who dresses in traditional white robes, Mansoor has repeatedly drawn the ire of authorities in the United Arab Emirates, calling for a free press and democratic freedoms. He is one of the country's few human rights defenders with an international profile, close links to foreign media and a network of sources. Mansoor's work has, at various times, cost him his job, his passport and even his liberty. 

    Online, Mansoor repeatedly found himself in the crosshairs of electronic eavesdropping operations. Even before the first rogue text message pinged across his phone on Aug. 10, Mansoor already had weathered attacks from two separate brands of commercial spyware. 

    When he shared the suspicious text with Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak, they realized he'd been targeted by a third. 

    Citizen Lab and Lookout both fingered a secretive Israeli firm, NSO Group, as the author of the spyware. Citizen Lab said that past targeting of Mansoor by the United Arab Emirates' government suggested that it was likely behind the latest hacking attempt as well. 

    Dashcam Video Catches Man Shooting at Deputy

    [NATL] Dashcam Video Catches Man Shooting at Deputy
    Dashcam video released Thursday shows a gunfight between a 28-year-old Lagrange, Georgia, man and a Troup County deputy. Deputy Michael Hockett arrived at Matthew Edmondson's home on a wellness check at the request of his father, who was concerned about his well-being. When the deputy arrived, he scaled a fence to go around the house. Edmondson later opened the gate and pulled into the yard before getting out of the truck, and firing a large caliber handgun at the patrol car. Edmondson faces multiple charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon, and others. (Published Friday, Jan. 13, 2017)

    Executives at the company declined to comment, and a visit to NSO's address in Herzliya showed that the firm had recently vacated its old headquarters — a move recent enough that the building still bore its logo. 

    In a statement released Thursday, which stopped short of acknowledging that the spyware was its own, the NSO Group said its mission was to provide "authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime." 

    The company said it couldn't comment on specific cases. 

    Marczak said he and fellow-researcher John Scott-Railton turned to Lookout for help to pick apart the malicious program, a process which Murray compared to "defusing a bomb." 

    The Pros and Cons of Marijuana Use

    [NATL] The Pros and Cons of Marijuana Use
    Marijuana use may help with chronic pain and nausea, but a new study says there are also negative consequences for young children and those at risk for certain mental illnesses. Experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reviewed all research on marijuana published since 1999 to find who should smoke and who shouldn't. (Published Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017)

    "It is amazing the level they've gone through to avoid detection," Murray said of the software's makers. "They have a hair-trigger self-destruct." 

    Working over a two-week period, the researchers found that Mansoor had been targeted by an unusually sophisticated piece of software which some have valued at $1 million. He told AP he was amused by the idea that so much money was being poured into watching him. 

    "If you would give me probably 10 percent of that I would write the report about myself for you!" 

    The apparent discovery of Israeli-made spyware being used to target a dissident in the United Arab Emirates raises awkward questions for both countries. The use of Israeli technology to police its own citizens is an uncomfortable strategy for an Arab country with no formal diplomatic ties to the Jewish state. And Israeli complicity in a cyberattack on an Arab dissident would seem to run counter to the country's self-description as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. 

    There are awkward questions, too, for Francisco Partners, the private equity firm which owns the NSO Group. Francisco is only an hour's drive from the headquarters of Apple, whose products the cybersecurity firm is accused of hacking. 

    Messages left with Francisco partners' offices in London and San Francisco went unreturned. Israeli and Emirati authorities did not return calls seeking comment. 

    Attorney Eitay Mack, who advocates for more transparency in Israeli arms exports, said his country's sales of surveillance software are not closely policed. 

    He also noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cultivated warmer ties with Arab Gulf states. 

    Carson Will Not Guarantee No HUD Money to Trumps

    [NATL] Carson Will Not Guarantee No HUD Money to Trumps
    At Thursday's Senate confirmation hearing, Department of Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson would not guarantee that no department money will go to President-elect Donald Trump or his family. He also addressed concerns about limiting LGBTQ or low-income participants of housing, saying he would "enforce all the laws of land." (Published Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017)

    "Israel is looking for allies," Mack said. "And when Israel finds allies, it does not ask too many questions."