By now, I imagine most of you are aware of the updates released by Apple to address to zero day vulnerabilities in Apple iOS, Apple WatchOS and Big Sur 11.6. Apple announced that these exploits are in the wild and actively in use. Needless to say, updates your devices as soon as possible to defend against these threats. The larger story behind the “why” of these zero day exploits caught my attention and deserves a little more attention.
Knowledge of these vulnerabilities came as the result of the work at the University of Toronto’s Citizens Lab and the Lab’s research on the exploit “FORCEDENTRY”. Ultimately, it was determined aspects of this exploit were weaponized by Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group and sold to multiple world government agencies including the government of Bahrain for use in spying against opposition leaders and dissidents. As the Hacker News reported, NSO Group engineers are facilitating ‘despotism-as-a-service’ to the highest bidder.
It would be completely naive to think that this type of offense exploit development is not taking place at every level of government around the world including within the walls of several US government agencies. I am particularly disturbed in this situation by the lack of discretion in client choice by the NSO Group and the open monetization of this tool to oppressive governments. I expect more of our democratic allies. That said, I believe my expectations are misplaced.
The world is changing and we need to be prepared to defend ourselves against the output of these vendors – the exploits and root kits and tools – as they get leaked to cybercriminals everywhere via the DarkWeb. Stay patched. Faithfully use MFA. Build layered defenses. Be diligent and stay prepared.