Google’s Project Zero last week shared details about multiple serious iOS vulnerabilities that allowed malicious websites to access a victim’s phone. There were a total of 14 vulnerabilities that were being exploited, and while those have now been fixed, some of the security holes were abused for several years.
Apple today responded to Google’s Project Zero blog post in an effort to address customer concerns with all of the facts.
Apple says the attack was “narrowly-focused” rather than a broad-based exploit of iPhones as described. Fewer than a dozen websites targeting Uighur Muslims were affected, according to Apple. Further, Apple says that Google created a false impression of mass exploitation, causing fear among iPhone owners.
Google also got the length of the attacks wrong. Apple says the websites were operational for approximately two months rather than two years, with the vulnerabilities fixed 10 days after Apple learned about them. Fixes were already in the works when Google approached Apple.
Apple’s full letter is included below:
Last week, Google published a blog about vulnerabilities that Apple fixed for iOS users in February. We’ve heard from customers who were concerned by some of the claims, and we want to make sure all of our customers have the facts.
First, the sophisticated attack was narrowly focused, not a broad-based exploit of iPhones “en masse” as described. The attack affected fewer than a dozen websites that focus on content related to the Uighur community. Regardless of the scale of the attack, we take the safety and security of all users extremely seriously.
Google’s post, issued six months after iOS patches were released, creates the false impression of “mass exploitation” to “monitor the private activities of entire populations in real time,” stoking fear among all iPhone users that their devices had been compromised. This was never the case.
Second, all evidence indicates that these website attacks were only operational for a brief period, roughly two months, not “two years” as Google implies. We fixed the vulnerabilities in question in February — working extremely quickly to resolve the issue just 10 days after we learned about it. When Google approached us, we were already in the process of fixing the exploited bugs.
Security is a never-ending journey and our customers can be confident we are working for them. iOS security is unmatched because we take end-to-end responsibility for the security of our hardware and software. Our product security teams around the world are constantly iterating to introduce new protections and patch vulnerabilities as soon as they’re found. We will never stop our tireless work to keep our users safe.
According to Google, the websites in question that targeted iPhone users were able to steal private data like messages, photos, and GPS location in real time with little effort after a visitor went to an infected website.
Google believes thousands of visitors accessed these websites per week over two years, with the vulnerability present in iOS 10, iOS 11, and iOS 12. Apple addressed the issues in iOS 12.1.4 back in February 2019.