Apple sues NSO group over Pegasus spyware: 5 privacy flaws they can fix first

Apple dragged Israeli firm NSO group to court for plugging the Pegasus spyware into their devices. Here are 5 other things Apple, the user privacy-upholder, can fix about their products.

 |  4-minute read |   24-11-2021
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Privacy. That’s iPhone.

Mehhh... not really.

Apple dragged Israeli firm NSO group to a court in the US for last year’s Pegasus snoopware scandal. They called the firm, ‘notorious hackers’ and ‘amoral 21st Century mercenaries’.

To refresh your memory, the iPhones of a group of journalists, activists and others were infected with Pegasus – a spyware - last year by NSO group on behalf of its clients. The clients allegedly included various governments. 

Apple has since fixed the vulnerability exploited by Pegasus. Now, they’ve demanded that NSO group locate and delete all data that was collected illegally from the affected devices and also reveal the identity of the entities with which the data was shared. 

Pegasus aside, the self-proclaimed flag-bearer of user privacy, Apple, also needs to address these 5 pressing privacy issues in their ecosystem:

1. PROFITS OVER PRIVACY 

iMessage, one of the best messaging platforms – well at least better than WhatsApp – has a flaw. And it is not in its design, but in Apple’s greedy stubbornness. Frustrated iphone users know that the end-to-end encryption of iMessage doesn’t work when sending a message to an Android user. By Apple's logic, everyone on the planet should have an iPhone.  

In 2013, Apple considered solving iMessage's cross-platforming issue. But an executive at Apple raised a concern: if it is done, then iPhone families will see no problem in buying their children Android phones. Can't believe that Apple while rolling in a mountain of cash, can put profits before user privacy, and still claim to be the better guy around.

2. WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR iPHONE (DOES NOT) STAY IN YOUR iPHONE!

There are two glaring issues with iCloud.

One, all that clever encryption system goes down the drain when your iMessages are backed up on iCloud. Apple can read all your messages on iCloud because copies of end-to-end encryption keys continue to be stored during backups.

Two, remember the Apple vs FBI fiasco in 2015 when the tech giant refused to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone 5C? Apple was patted on its back for standing up to the FBI for their billions of users. However, the dirty secret is that Apple has keys to your iCloud encryption. So, re-read the last line of the last paragraph. Apple can read all your data in iCloud backup. So the next time you spend thousands of rupees on buying more iCloud storage, think twice.

3. THE UNENDING PROBLEMS WITH CSAM DETECTION SYSTEM 

Apple has not yet rolled out its CSAM or Child Sexual Abuse Material detection system that it planned to do in the iOS 15 update. But the system, other than being a complete privacy nightmare, has some serious glitches. This is how Apple describes the functioning of the system: The system performs on-device matching using a database of known CSAM image hashes provided by NCMEC and other child safety organisations. 

Now, researchers at the Imperial College London found that the system can be bypassed by simply applying a hashtag filter to any image or changing the 'image hashes'. Researchers were able to fool the system 99.9% of the times. WOW!

4. MORE LIKE FLAG-BEARER OF 'EXPOSING IDENTITIES' 

This is a possible future issue. Reports say Apple may integrate facial recognition with digital identification in the near future. A digital identification is essentially a digital version of a government-issued ID, like your Aadhaar card. Facial recognition-powered digital IDs pose the same risks as police facial recognition.

5. WHEN THE PRODUCT ITSELF BECOMES THE FLAW 

The next issue with Apple’s privacy is literally its product. It’s Air Tags. Sure it may help you find your lost bag or a lost cat or a dog. But it can also be used as a stalking device which can be slipped into a victim’s car or bag.

Air tags piggyback on nearby Apple devices to share location and details. Since there are a billion Apple device users worldwide, Air Tags prove to be better stalking devices than say other third party devices that rely on the same technology.  

Yes, Apple may be better than Android in privacy, but it is not foolproof. And it also seems like as the years go by, Apple is becoming less interested in their users' privacy.

Writer

Amrutha Pagad Amrutha Pagad @amrutha_pagad

Amrutha loves writing on Humour, Politics, Environment and Gender. She is a Senior Sub editor at DailyO.

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