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Cyber weapons dealer jumps on iPhone security flaw

If you have an iPhone, stop what you're doing and update it to the latest operating system, iOS 9.3.5 (to do this, go to your Settings app, tap "General," and then "Software Update." Then tap "Download and Install"). Why? As Motherboard reports today, security researchers have found a new malicious program that can secretly bypass the security on your iPhone and capture almost all of your data, including all your texts, phone calls, emails, even burrowing into your Facebook and Gmail apps.

Fortunately, Apple's newest version of its free iPhone software, iOS 9.3.5, fixes the security vulnerabilities that this malware uses to attack your phone. So if you download and install it, you should be safe.

The malware, known as Pegasus and thought to be developed by an Israeli intelligence software vendor known as NSO Group, was uncovered after UAE human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor received an unsolicited text message from an unknown number last month containing a link. Clicking the link installed the malware, according to the researchers who analyzed it on a test iPhone. These researchers included members of Citizen Lab, a multidisciplinary cybersecurity and human rights group from the University of Toronto, and Lookout, a mobile security firm.

Evolution of the iPhone:

Evolution of the iPhone
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Evolution of the iPhone
Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up an Apple iPhone at the MacWorld Conference in San Francisco, Jan. 9, 2007. Apple Inc., on a tear with its popular iPod players and Macintosh computers, is expected to report strong quarterly results Wednesday. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Jeff Gamet, from the Internet magazine The Mac Observer, looks at the new Apple iPhone at MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007. Apple Inc. is a tight ship when it comes to corporate secrets, regularly suing journalists and employees who leak data about upcoming products. Although few people outside of Apple's headquarters knew product specifications for the iPhone before its announcement, the device was widely anticipated. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
An advertisement for the upcoming iPhone is displayed in the Apple store in SoHo, Friday, June 22, 2007 in New York. The long anticipated gadget hits the market on June 29th. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh)
A television journalist holds the Apple iPhone, the only one given to a journalist in Los Angeles before it went on sale, as he interviews people waiting to buy the iPhone outside the Apple store at The Grove in Los Angeles, Friday, June 29, 2007. After six months of hype, thousands of people Friday will get their hands on the iPhone, the new cell phone that Apple Inc. is banking on to become its third core business next to its moneymaking iPod players and Macintosh computers. Customers were camped out at Apple and AT&T stores across the nation. The gadget, which combines the functions of a cell phone, iPod media player and wireless Web browser, will go on sale in the United States at 6 p.m. in each time zone. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
A customer holds a demonstration Apple iPhone during the release of the Apple product and the opening of a new Apple Store at Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday, June 29, 2007. More than 500 people waited in line. (AP Photo/David Crenshaw)
Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs announces the new Apple iPhone 3G during the keynote speech at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 9, 2008. Jobs announced innovations to the Mac OS X Leopard operating system and an enhanced iPhone. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
An older Apple iPhone is shown next to an advertisement for the new iPhone 3G at an AT&T store in Palo Alto, Calif., Tuesday, July 8, 2008. To sustain the momentum of the original iPhone's success and keep fickle consumers and Wall Street happy, Apple Inc. needs a dramatic second act with the next generation of iPhones, which roll out Friday with faster Internet access and lower retail prices. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
A shop worker holds the new Apple iPhone 3GS in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, June 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Apple CEO Steve Jobs smiles as he uses the new iPhone 4 at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Monday, June 7, 2010, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Apple iPhone at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Monday, June 7, 2010 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2011 file photo, Chris Cioban, manager of the Verizon store in Beachwood, Ohio, holds up an Apple iPhone 4G. Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cellphone company, announced Tuesday, June 12, 2012, that is dropping nearly all of its phone plans in favor of pricing schemes that encourage consumers to connect their non-phone devices, like tablets and PCs, to Verizon's network. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)
Apple CEO Tim Cook during an introduction of the new iPhone 5 in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
People queue outside the Apple Store as the iPhone 5 mobile phones went on sale in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Friday Sept. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
In this photo taken Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, new plastic iPhones 5C are displayed during a media event held in Beijing, China. Last year, eager buyers in Beijing waited overnight in freezing weather to buy the iPhone 4S. Pressure to get it — and the profit to be made by reselling scarce phones — prompted some to pelt the store with eggs when Apple, worried about the size of the crowd, postponed opening. Just 18 months later, many Chinese gadget lovers responded with a shrug this week when Apple Inc. unveiled two new versions of the iPhone 5. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A customer examines a new iPhone 5s at the Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha, Neb., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, the day the new iPhone 5c and 5s models go on sale. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the new Apple Watch and iPhone 6 on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Two new iPhone 6 are photographed at the Apple store in the city centre of Munich, Germany, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. A large crowd had gathered in front of the Apple store ahead of the offical launch of Apple's new iPhone. (AP Photo, dpa,Peter Kneffel)
FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2014 file photo, a customer looks at the screen size on the new iPhone 6 Plus while waiting in line to upgrade his iPhone at a Verizon Wireless store in Flowood, Miss. A newly-discovered glitch in Apple's software can cause iPhones to mysteriously shut down when they receive a certain text message. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus during an Apple media event in San Francisco, California on September 9, 2015. Apple unveiled its iPad Pro, saying the large-screen tablet has the power and capabilities to replace a laptop computer. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

What they found was one of the most powerful and invasive pieces of mobile malware yet uncovered. As Motherboard reports:

NOS's malware, which the company codenamed Pegasus, is designed to quietly infect an iPhone and be able to steal and intercept all data inside of it, as well as any communication going through it.

"It basically steals all the information on your phone, it intercepts every call, it intercepts every text message, it steals all the emails, the contacts, the FaceTime calls. It also basically backdoors every communications mechanism you have on the phone," [Lookout VP of research Mike] Murray explained. "It steals all the information in the Gmail app, all the Facebook messages, all the Facebook information, your Facebook contacts, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Telegram—you name it."

Who's using this malware and why? And who's affected? The answers to those questions remain murky, but the researchers followed a digital trail back to a group of hackers called Stealth Falcon, which they believe may have ties to the UAE government. They also found similar links targeting people in Kenya, and a journalist in Mexico. When the security researchers found out about the malware, they told Apple, and the company spent 10 days building an update that would fix the security holes.

No matter who you are, if you have an iPhone running an older version of software, it's vulnerable to this specific spyware, so you should update as soon as possible. And after that, read the rest of the Motherboard report.


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