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Google's Project Zero uncovers iPhone zero-day Wi-Fi exploit

Buggy code in iOS could have been exploited by hackers to remotely take control of devices

Coffee drinker using a black iPhone 11

iPhone users could have had their devices remotely rebooted and controlled via an iOS exploit, Google's Project Zero has revealed. 

The vulnerability was patched by Apple in May, but a variety of iPhones and iOS devices, including the iPhone 11, were susceptible to the vulnerability, according to Project Zero security researcher Ian Beer.

The exploit could have allowed hackers to remotely reboot and take complete control of a device from a distance, enabling them to read emails, messages, download photos and even access the microphone and camera for surveillance purposes. 

This was possible because iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches all use a protocol called Apple Wireless Direct Link (AWDL) to build a mesh network for services such as AirDrop and Sidecar. 

Beer came across the exploit while reading through an iOS developer beta in 2018 that had the code for AWDL. Due to the amount of code running on iOS, along with the sheer amount of programmes it runs, Beer suggests that bugs are always "prevalent" and can often be spotted.

It took six months to develop the bug into an exploit and Beer stressed that there is no evidence of it being used in the wild. 

"The takeaway from this project should not be: no one will spend six months of their life just to hack my phone, I'm fine," Beer wrote in a blog post.

"Instead, it should be: one 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."

IT Pro has approached Apple for comment, but the iPhone maker patched the vulnerability in March.

The company credited Beer in its changelogs for several of the security updates that are linked to the vulnerability. The tech giant has also pointed out that most iOS users are already using newer versions that have been patched and also suggested that an attacker would need to be in a short range of the Wi-Fi for it to work. 

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