Lockdown during the pandemic has been a long slog, but some pretty cool inventions have been created as a result. Some YouTubers created a lightsaber that slices through steel and a 12-year-old physicist created nuclear fusion in his parents’ playroom – clearly, cross-stitching wasn’t enough for some people. But in a slightly darker twist, a member of the hacking team Project Zero, which is backed by Google, has created a homemade antenna that can be pointed at iPhones to immediately take full control of them.
By utilizing an exploit within the iPhone iOS software and around $100 of readily-available equipment, Google security researcher Ian Beer could connect to the device via Wi-Fi and take control of the phones remotely. This feat may come as no surprise to those well-versed in cybersecurity, as Beer is considered one of the best hackers in the world.
Requiring just close proximity to the target device, the exploit uses a single memory corruption vulnerability to remotely execute commands within the memory of the core components of the device. In the video below, Beer uses the exploit to remotely reboot a number of iOS devices almost immediately.
The video demonstrating a collective reboot of target devices using the exploit.
In a blog post explaining the exploit and how he uses it to gain entry into the devices, Beer explains that the takeaway from his work is quite a worrying one.
"[O]ne person, working alone in their bedroom, was able to build a capability which would allow them to seriously compromise iPhone users they'd come into close contact with," states Beer.
Now whilst some may be fearful for their data and their phone safety, there is some good news. This specific exploit was patched and no longer works if your iPhone is updated to the latest iOS 13.5, so make sure to keep up with the regular software updates to fully protect your smartphone, whichever brand, at all times. Beer also explains that he has never seen this exploit used prior to his discovery, so there should be little concern about a breach such as this affecting your data.
However, as pointed out by Ray Redacted on Twitter many smartphones are not regularly updated and could fall prey to exploits such as this. Phones confiscated from inmates entering confinement are an example, and Ray Redacted points out that the exploit could put a huge number of phones in custody at risk.
If you’re looking for exactly how the hacking device works, visit Beer's impressive write-up here. The exploit took 6 months of work to create and although the end result is simple, the process of getting there is quite an undertaking.
Beer has now called on Apple to verify the bug, which would net him the $500,000 reward offered by the company to find a “network attack requiring no user interaction”. Should this be verified by Apple, Beer said the money should be donated to charity.