Shocking! iPhone spying campaign exposed by this woman | Tech News

Shocking! iPhone spying campaign exposed by this woman

A Saudi woman's iPhone exposed a spying campaign that was global in nature. Here’s the whole story.

| Updated on: Feb 19 2022, 17:49 IST
Saudi activist
The discovery of the activist's iPhone exposed the NSO spyware company. (Reuters)
Saudi activist
The discovery of the activist's iPhone exposed the NSO spyware company. (Reuters)

We have heard many stories about how the iPhone, Apple Watch or even AirPods saved the life of their users in an emergency. However, this time it was not just about the user, but about saving world from the terror spyware. At the centre was an iPhone spying campaign. And the iPhone in question belonged to Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi activist who was at the centre of action that exposed wrongdoing on a massive, global scale. It helped to turn the tables on the NSO Group, one of the largest and most powerful spyware companies. You must have heard this name a few months back when news about the Pegasus spyware surfaced all over the internet and news. But an unusual error in NSO's spyware allowed the Saudi woman to become the vanguard in exposing evidence about the iPhone spyware.

Basically, it all started with just a software glitch in the Saudi activist's iPhone, which led the privacy researchers to uncover a treasure of evidence indicating that the Israeli spyware company, the NSO Group, had assisted in the hacking of her iPhone, Reuters reported. A mysterious fake image file within her iPhone was left there by the spyware by mistake and alerted the security specialists. This discovery dates back to last year's case, which put the NSO company under the storm of legal and government action. But how was the hack actually discovered has been revealed for the first time now.

Here's how Saudi Woman's iPhone spyware exposed the NSO Group

The activist, Al-Hathloul, received an email from Google informing her that state-backed hackers had attempted to break into her Gmail account. In a fear that her iPhone had been hacked, the activist contacted the Canadian privacy rights group Citizen Lab and asked them to search her device for evidence, the Reuters report said.

After six months, a privacy researcher discovered that a bug in the surveillance programme installed on her phone had left a duplicate of the malicious image file instead of removing itself after capturing its target's messages. Reuters reported while quoting the researcher that the computer code left by the attack offered direct evidence NSO built the espionage tool. The report further revealed that the discovery amounted to a hacker blueprint and prompted Apple Inc to warn thousands of additional state-backed hacking victims around the whole world.

This discovery by the Saudi woman's iPhone served as the foundation for Apple's November 2021 lawsuit against NSO, and it echoed in Washington, where U.S. officials discovered that NSO's cyberweapon was used to spy on American diplomats too.

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First Published Date: 19 Feb, 17:49 IST