A cybersecurity expert explains why we're likely to see more Apple hacks in the future

  • Apple has historically been seen as the gold standard of cybersecurity. Two recent hacks may have changed that perception, and Apple is now a top target for hackers.
  • Future cyberattacks are likely to target iPhone and Mac users thanks to the global reach of Apple’s proprietary software.
  • Previously, hackers were most likely to prey on Microsoft and its Windows operating system. Apple could be next.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For years, Apple was seen as the gold standard of cybersecurity, and its apps and operating systems were thought to be impenetrable.

Two high-profile hacks in 2019 may have shattered that conception.

Last spring, hackers used a vulnerability in the messaging app WhatsApp to install malware on smartphones, including iPhones. The hack took over users’ phones after they accepted phone calls from hackers through WhatsApp, the Financial Times first reported in May.

Then an even more explosive Apple hack surfaced: Google researchers revealed in August that a massive iPhone hack may have targeted Uighur Muslims in China. Victims’ iPhones were compromised when they visited specific malicious websites, which were able to install spyware. In both cases, Apple had patched the issues by the time they were made public.

The more recent iPhone hack was a feat that was previously seen as impossible. Not only did hackers infiltrate iOS, they also gained access to a slew of information available on a victim’s iPhone: location data, photos, and messages were all up for grabs.

Now, a cybersecurity expert predicts even more Apple hacks going forward. Alex Heid, chief research and development officer at the cybersecurity firm SecurityScorecard, told Business Insider that Apple is now a top target for hackers seeking money or power.


Read more:
5 recent hacks that show smartphones are more vulnerable than we thought

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment. Apple touted its cybersecurity measures in a statement on iOS security published last month.

Here’s why Heid says we haven’t seen the last of cyberattacks on Apple.


There are more Apple devices out there than ever before.

Getty Images

Apple is now one of the predominant platforms across the globe, both for mobile users and on desktop computers.

The company took the second-largest share of the smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2018, with 18% of the global smartphone market share, according to Strategy Analytics. Its broad market share alone makes it a golden goose in the eyes of hackers, Heid said.

“Apple has a much larger market penetration now than it did before,” he said. “There’s more Apple out there.”


Apple’s global reach puts it in hackers’ sights.

Apple

According to Heid, while Apple’s reach makes the company itself a target, it also means it’s more likely to be used by the specific groups hackers want to prey on.

“Because there’s more people using it there’s going to be more people seeking to attack it,” Heid said.

In the case of the cyberattacks on that appear to have targeted Uighur Muslims, hackers apparently wanted to surveil a specific group – the fact that they were iPhone users put Apple in hacker’s sights, too.


Microsoft has had these issues for years.

Reuters

For years, Windows was the biggest target for hackers because it was the operating system used by most organisations and individuals across the globe, according to Heid.

A 2018 survey of 300 hackers found that Windows was overwhelmingly seen as the easiest port of entry for hacks, while Apple was seen as more impenetrable.

Now that hackers have successfully broken into Apple platforms on multiple occasions, it’s likely to face a similar fate.


Hacking Apple products can mean a big payout.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of the biggest reasons that hackers are likely to target Apple going forward is pretty straightforward: it pays well. Because Apple software is proprietary – and used so widely – there’s a lot of money to be made in hacking it, Heid said.

Apple apparently recognises this, and is offering its own rewards to white hat hackers who can show the company weaknesses in its cybersecurity. Apple announced in August that it is offering a $US1 million reward to anyone who can execute a specific iPhone hack.

“When your code base is proprietary, when an exploit is found, it’s either going to be sold or used for a lot of money,” Heid said.


This could be just the beginning for Apple hacks.

Apple

The successful Apple hacks earlier this year were both examples of malicious software that ran on users’ phones undetected. That’s a model that hackers are likely to try to replicate with future Apple hacks, according to Heid.

“There’s most definitely going to be an increase in attacks on the Apple platform from a malware standpoint,” he said.

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