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Google Claims Government-Backed Hackers Targeted Apple iPhone Vulnerabilities

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Google’s Threat Analysis Group has identified a series of government-backed hacking operations utilizing previously unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iPhone OS.

The spyware, reportedly developed by Barcelona-based startup Variston, exploited three “zero-day” vulnerabilities to target individuals in Indonesia through a malicious SMS link.

Variston’s association with UAE-based cybersecurity firm Protected AE underscores the international nature of the spyware market.

Despite the focus on Israeli companies like NSO Group, Google’s report emphasized the growing influence of European entities in supplying surveillance tools to government customers globally.

“Commercial surveillance vendors (CSVs) are enabling the proliferation of dangerous hacking tools. The harm is not hypothetical. Spyware vendors point to their tools’ legitimate use in law enforcement and counterterrorism,” Google wrote.

“However, spyware deployed against journalists, human rights defenders, dissidents, and opposition party politicians — what Google refers to as ‘high risk users’ — has been well documented,” they said.

The report also highlighted the significant impact of spyware on freedom of speech, a free press, and the integrity of elections worldwide.

“While the number of users targeted by spyware is small compared to other types of cyber threat activity, the follow-on effects are much broader. This type of focused targeting threatens freedom of speech, a free press, and the integrity of elections worldwide,” Google said.

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