Operation Triangulation: Zero-Click iPhone Malware

Kaspersky is reporting a zero-click iOS exploit in the wild:

Mobile device backups contain a partial copy of the filesystem, including some of the user data and service databases. The timestamps of the files, folders and the database records allow to roughly reconstruct the events happening to the device. The mvt-ios utility produces a sorted timeline of events into a file called “timeline.csv,” similar to a super-timeline used by conventional digital forensic tools.

Using this timeline, we were able to identify specific artifacts that indicate the compromise. This allowed to move the research forward, and to reconstruct the general infection sequence:

  • The target iOS device receives a message via the iMessage service, with an attachment containing an exploit.
  • Without any user interaction, the message triggers a vulnerability that leads to code execution.
  • The code within the exploit downloads several subsequent stages from the C&C server, that include additional exploits for privilege escalation.
  • After successful exploitation, a final payload is downloaded from the C&C server, that is a fully-featured APT platform.
  • The initial message and the exploit in the attachment is deleted

The malicious toolset does not support persistence, most likely due to the limitations of the OS. The timelines of multiple devices indicate that they may be reinfected after rebooting. The oldest traces of infection that we discovered happened in 2019. As of the time of writing in June 2023, the attack is ongoing, and the most recent version of the devices successfully targeted is iOS 15.7.

No attribution as of yet.

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