The ‘Most Sophisticated’ iPhone Attack Chain ‘Ever Witnessed’ Utilized Four Zero-Days for a Zero-Click Exploit

The ‘Most Sophisticated’ iPhone Attack Chain ‘Ever Witnessed’ Utilized Four Zero-Days for a Zero-Click Exploit

Discovery of a Sophisticated iMessage Vulnerability

From 2019 to December 2022, an advanced iMessage vulnerability, later named “Operation Triangulation,” was actively exploited. Kaspersky security researchers, who uncovered it, have now detailed what they call the “most sophisticated attack chain” they have ever encountered.

Presentation at the Chaos Communication Congress

During a presentation at the Chaos Communication Congress, Kaspersky security experts Boris Larin, Leonid Bezvershenko, and Georgy Kucherin shared insights about Operation Triangulation. This was the first instance of the researchers publicly revealing all exploits and vulnerabilities involved in this intricate iMessage attack.

Sharing Research on Kaspersky’s SecureList Blog

The complete findings and research conducted by the team were also made available on the Kaspersky SecureList blog on the same day.

Comparing Operation Triangulation to Other Sophisticated Exploits

When compared to the notoriously complex Pegasus 0-click iMessage exploit, Operation Triangulation shares an equivalently alarming level of sophistication. The researchers emphasized the unparalleled complexity of this attack chain.

Description of the iMessage Vulnerability and Attack Chain

The vulnerability persisted in iOS systems until the release of iOS 16.2 in December 2022, leaving devices open to a multi-stage attack that leveraged four zero-day exploits to ultimately gain root access on a victim’s device.

Detailed Breakdown of the Attack Chain

A meticulously crafted malicious iMessage attachment initiates the attack chain by exploiting a previously undocumented TrueType font instruction, leading to a series of sophisticated exploits. These include jumping between programming languages, obfuscating malicious code, and utilizing hardware features to gain extensive control over the device without the user’s knowledge. The culmination of this process allows attackers to execute spyware or other malicious software while covering their tracks effectively.

In-Depth Investigation and Remaining Mysteries

The Kaspersky team has nearly fully reverse-engineered the attack chain and plans to publish more detailed articles on each vulnerability in 2024. Despite their extensive research, the mystery of how the attackers discovered a hidden hardware feature remains unsolved, and the team is seeking assistance from the broader security community.

The Ineffectiveness of Security Through Obscurity

In summarizing their findings, the researchers assert that a security approach that relies solely on obscurity is fundamentally flawed. They encourage other researchers to review the technical details and contribute to understanding and mitigating such vulnerabilities.

Opportunity for Community Contribution and Further Research

Researchers and interested parties are invited to contribute to the project by exploring the technical details shared in the Kaspersky post. The collective effort aims to enhance the security of iOS and similar systems in the future.

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