Apple sends ominous ‘threat’ notifications to users in 92 countries

Users warned about ‘mercenary spyware’ for the first time

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 11 April 2024 22:22 BST
(Getty Images)

iPhone users in 92 countries have received ominous notifications informing them they may have been victim of “mercenary spyware” attacks.

The alerts warn users that hackers have attempted to “compromise” their phones. It does not necessarily mean that the device has actually been compromised.

Previously, Apple’s threat notifications had been focused on “state-sponsored attackers”, and the company said that most people who received them would likely do so because they had been attacked by hostile governments.

But the new warnings do not specifically point to state-sponsored attacks. Apple also updated the warning of an information page on its website to reference “mercenary spyware attacks”.

If a user receives one, it means that Apple has “high confidence” that a user has been individually targeted, Apple says, and that it “should be taken seriously”. Apple does not give detailed information on the alerts, including why it has issued them, saying that doing so would make it easier for attackers to evade them.

The attacks are “more complex than regular cybercriminal activity and consumer malware, as mercenary spyware attackers apply exceptional resources to target a very small number of specific individuals and their devices”, Apple’s website reads..

“Mercenary spyware attacks cost millions of dollars and often have a short shelf life, making them much harder to detect and prevent. The vast majority of users will never be targeted by such attacks.”

When users receive the notification, they will receive an email and text message warning them that they may have been attacked. A notification will also show when they log into Apple’s website.

The notifications advise users to increase their security and check their settings. It suggests that they may enable Lockdown Mode, for instance, a tool that limits some features to minimise the possible ways that attackers might break into a phone.

Apple advises that all users should keep their phones up to date, protect them with a passcode, use two-factor authentication and a strong password, and not click on links or attachments from unknown senders.

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