Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) has published a blog post detailing a number of exploits in iOS that allowed hacked websites to hack into an iPhone simply if the iPhone visited the site. Once an iPhone did that, malware was installed on the device that allowed the hackers to monitor the iPhone’s live location every 60 seconds as well as upload virtually any files from the iPhone—including iMessage and WhatsApp messages.
TAG says the exploit “may be one of the largest attacks against iPhone users ever.” It reportedly affected iPhones running iOS 10 to iOS 12:
Working with TAG, we discovered exploits for a total of fourteen vulnerabilities across the five exploit chains: seven for the iPhone’s web browser, five for the kernel and two separate sandbox escapes. Initial analysis indicated that at least one of the privilege escalation chains was still 0-day and unpatched at the time of discovery.
There is some good news, however. First, an iPhone user had to visit one of the hacked websites in order for their iPhone to be infected. TAG did not specify which websites were hacked, but their report says the sites received “thousands of visitors per week,” suggesting the sites received relatively minor traffic relative to the number of iPhones in the wild.
Further, even if the malware made it onto an iPhone, when a user restarted their iPhone, the malware would be wiped clean in most instances. Of course, news of any exploits in iOS isn’t good—no matter how few users were impacted. The good news is that Apple acted quickly once TAG alerted them to the exploits. TAG says it contacted Apple about the exploits on February 1, 2019, and Apple fixed all of the exploits just six days later with the release of iOS 12.1.4 on February 7, 2019.