Apple will notify users when Apple detects that the device has been infected with advanced spyware. The American tech giant indicates that it only concerns spyware that is used by states or government agencies, such as the infamous Pegasus spyware.
If Apple detects such an attack, you as a user will receive an email and an iMessage notification on your device. In addition, a Threat Notification is also visible when you log in to the Apple site. Users who receive the notification must therefore log in to Apple to verify the warning. The company says it is very difficult to identify such attacks in time, and sometimes false alarms can be raised. To prevent the service from being used against victims, the notifications never contain links, files or attachments.
The company does not elaborate on how they will detect these attacks, because that would make it easier for government hackers to circumvent Apple’s detection systems. Upon receipt of a notification, the affected users will see more information and Apple will help the user take the next steps to keep their device safe.
Unlike regular malware and intrusion attempts, a state-sponsored attack often involves a large budget to attack a small number of people. The attack therefore specifically targets the services and devices of these users. Carrying out such attacks is very complex and can cost millions to develop such targeted attack tools. As an ordinary iPhone owner, it is therefore very unlikely that you will be the victim of such an attack.
A well-known case of such a surveillance campaign by governments concerns the Pegasus software of the Israeli spy company NSO. In July of this year, a list of 50,000 people leaked, all of whom are said to be targets of this infamous eavesdropping software. The list included journalists, human rights activists and politicians. For example, French President Macron and the King of Morocco may have been spied on and the software was also found on the phones of 5 French ministers. This prompted a response from Amazon, which immediately took NSO’s digital infrastructure that was housed with the company offline. Finally, even the UN called on governments to stop using the Pegasus software.
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