Monday, September 25, 2023

New iOS Critical iPhone Update Sponsored by Egypt’s Presidential Race

If you are an iPhone user, you probably received a notification in the past few hours that you must update your iOS. In fact, if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iWatch, you must update your OS immediately with an important critical security update.

This critical security update is related to the Egyptian Presidential race, and the world owes its thanks to Egyptian Presidential hopeful Ahmed El-Tantawy for this update.

Ahmed El-Tantawy
Ahmed El-Tantawy

That's right.

Apple owes its thanks to El-Tantawy, the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, and Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) for discovering a zero-day exploit chain for the iPhone.

Zero-day spyware is a type of malware that exploits a software vulnerability that is unknown to the software vendor or to antivirus vendors. This means that there is no patch or signature available to detect and block the spyware, making it very difficult to defend against.

Zero-day spyware is often used by sophisticated attackers, such as government agencies and cybercriminals, to target high-value individuals and organizations.

According to Citizen Lab, former Egyptian MP and presidential hopeful Ahmed El-Tantawy's Vodafone Egypt iPhone line was targeted with Cytrox's Predator spyware via links sent on SMS and WhatsApp between May and September 2023, following his announcement that he would run for the presidential office.

The iOS Tantawy update
The iOS Tantawy update 

"When El-Tantawy visited certain websites not using HTTPS after receiving a link through WhatsApp, a device installed at the border of Vodafone Egypt's network automatically redirected him to a malicious website to infect his phone with Cytrox's Predator spyware," Citizen Lab explained.

It turned out that El-Tantawy's phone was also infected with Cytrox's Predator spyware two years prior, in November 2021, via a text message containing a link to a Predator website.

Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) said it discovered the zero-day exploit in partnership with Citizen Lab and that it was developed by the infamous Irish spyware company Intellexa.

Both Cytrox and Intellexa are controlled by a former Israeli intelligence officer.

This is not the first time Cytrox has targeted an Egyptian politician with its spyware. In 2021, the European spyware company, along with the infamous Israeli NSO Group, targeted the mobile phones of Ayman Nour and a popular news program host who chose to remain anonymous.

Both Cytrox and Intellexa were blacklisted by the US administration earlier this year.

Vodafone Egypt has not commented on this scandal. The Egyptian government has not issued an official statement, since the target is an Egyptian citizen.

The Egyptian administration has also not commented on the matter, either officially or unofficially.

The fact that his iPhone is not unprecedented but it is how things escalated to this level. 

It is surreal. I can't comprehend it. It's no wonder that some of my friends have many thoughts, doubts, and theories about the whole thing. It's crazy!

Needless to say, many wonder how El-Tantawy knew that his iPhone was bugged.

Despite the foreign media describing Ahmed El-Tantawy as a "prominent" opponent of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, he is not as popular or well-known as Abdel Moneim Abou El-Fotouh. We know the result of the elections in advance, so this war against El-Tantawy is difficult to understand.

Either way, El-Tantawy got international media attention in a very unexpected way.

On Sunday, Tantawy's presidential campaign announced that more than 20,000 citizens had joined his campaign. However, the campaign had previously announced that about 35 volunteers were arrested nationwide. Seven campaigners were released by the prosecution on LE 5,000 bail.

On the same day, the Civil Movement discussed the presidential elections and having several presidential hopefuls. It was another interesting thing I had to follow because just as it was held, parts of the meeting were leaked to social media.

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