The American firm Apple called on its customers to update their iPhones on Thursday after an attempt to infect them with spyware produced and sold by an Israeli company, two international companies said.
Citizen Lab and Lookout companies said that there were attempts to infect an iPhone owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor, who had raised the alarm about suspicious text messages sent to his iPhone.
The UAE’s rights activist received text messages on his iPhone on the morning of August 10 and 11, reading in Arabic: “New secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons.” The message included a hyperlink to an unknown site.
A researcher in one of the companies said that the text messages were “bait to get him to click on a link, which would have led to the infection of his Apple iPhone 6 and control of the device through a spy software created by the NSO Group, a shadowy Israeli surveillance company.”
The researcher Bill Marczak from Citizen Lab and one of his colleagues tested an infected iPhone of their own and “watched as unknown software was remotely implanted on our phone,” the two said in a report. They then contacted Lookout to help counter the spyware.
According to the Citizen Lab researchers, the infection would have turned Mansour’s iPhone into a pocket undercover spy.
The pocket would have been “capable of employing his iPhone’s camera and microphone to eavesdrop on activity in the vicinity of the device, recording his WhatsApp and Viber calls, logging messages sent in mobile chat apps and tracking his movements.”