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Enhanced (and more dangerous) Pegasus spyware puts every executive at risk

Researchers today released evidence of three new ways Pegasus spyware can infiltrate and exploit iPhones. The tools could be used to spy on anyone, creating massive economic espionage risks. 

Pegasus — developed by Israel-based NSO Group to access everything on your device — can covertly activate functions like the camera and microphone and track your GPS location in real time.

It’s what’s known as a “zero-click” exploit, meaning the targeted individual doesn’t have to click on a link or perform any interaction to have their device compromised. 

Typically, vulnerabilities are exploited via iMessage or WhatsApp. 

The research folks at Citizen Lab released details of three new zero-click exploits they discovered in 2022 (and just released to give Apple time to plug the holes).

Citizen Labs says they obtained “extensive forensic visibility into new NSO Group exploit activity” after finding spyware on devices belonging to individuals in Mexico, including two human rights defenders from Centro PRODH, which represents victims of military abuses in Mexico.

According to Citizen Lab, the NSO Group’s latest spyware used exploits in the iPhone’s Find My and HomeKit features.

Since my personal brush with Pegasus last year, I’ve performed regular spyware checks. You can learn how to do that here

Since then, Apple has released Lockdown Mode for its devices, designed specifically to combat Pegasus and other zero-click exploits. 

Here’s how Apple describes it: 

Lockdown Mode is an optional, extreme protection that’s designed for the very few individuals who, because of who they are or what they do, might be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats. Most people are never targeted by attacks of this nature.

Lockdown Mode is an extreme measure, and enabling it comes at a usability cost. For example, most attachments and links are blocked in iMessage, and several website content types and features won’t work.

Here’s how to enable Lockdown Mode on an iPhone:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Privacy & Security.
  3. Under Security, tap Lockdown Mode and tap Turn On Lockdown Mode.
  4. Tap Turn On Lockdown Mode.
  5. Tap Turn On & Restart, then enter your device passcode.

It is extremely unlikely that a zero-click spyware attack will target anyone reading this, but it remains possible. FCPA Blog readers are some of the most senior people in global industry. They sit on boards and deal with highly sensitive information every day.

If you are ever suspicious, you should take the steps above to protect yourself while heading to your IT department for a closer look.

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