Over the past few years, there’s been an increase in the number of attackers targeting Apple, especially with zero-day exploits. One major reason is that a zero-day exploit might just be the most valuable asset in a hacker’s portfolio — and hackers know it. In 2022 alone, Apple has discovered seven zero-days and has followed up these discoveries with the required remedial updates. But it doesn’t seem like the cat-and-mouse game will die anytime soon.
In 2021, the number of recorded zero-days overall was more than double the figures recorded in 2020, showing the highest level since tracking began in 2014, according to a repository maintained by Project Zero. MIT Technology Review attributed this rise to the “rapid global proliferation of hacking tools” and the willingness of powerful state and non-state groups to invest handsomely in the discovery and infiltration of these operating systems. Threat actors actively search for vulnerabilities, find a way to exploit them, then sell the information to the highest bidder.
The Zero-Day Battles
Suffering repeatedly from these infiltrations is the tech giant, Apple. After recovering from 12 recorded exploitations and remediation in 2021, Apple was welcomed into the new year of 2022 with two zero-day bugs in its operating systems and a WebKit flaw that could have leaked users’ browsing data. Barely one month after releasing 23 security patches to fix those issues, another flaw was discovered — one that would allow attackers to infect users’ devices when they process certain malicious Web content.
Fast-forward to August 17 and Apple revealed it had found two new vulnerabilities in its operating system: CVE-2022-32893 and CVE-2022-32894. The first vulnerability gives remote code execution (RCE) access to Apple’s Safari Web browser kit, used by every iOS and macOS-enabled browser. The second, another RCE flaw, gives attackers complete and unrestricted access to the user’s software and hardware. Both vulnerabilities affect most Apple devices — especially the iPhone 6 and later models, iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 onwards, iPad 5th generation and newer models, iPad mini 4 and newer versions, iPod touch (7th generation), and macOS Monterrey. Recognizing the risk level of such a threat, Apple recently released security updates to remediate these “actively exploited” vulnerabilities. This would be the fifth and sixth zero-day vulnerability exploited in Apple’s systems just this year.
A couple weeks later, speculations about another zero-day exploit arose. One research team, in particular, said it found an ad on the Dark Web offering a supposedly weaponized version of an Apple vulnerability for over €2 million. While these speculations remain unconfirmed, soon after Apple released security updates for its seventh actively exploited zero-day vulnerability of 2022: CVE-2022-32917. According to the advisory, attackers could leverage this flaw to create applications that execute arbitrary code with kernel capabilities.
Zero-day exploits sell for up to $10 million, Digital Shadows’ Photon Research Team reports, positioning them as the single most expensive commodity in the cybercrime underworld. With a bounty like that, the market for these exploits are bound to expand and further exacerbate cyber threats.
Apple Isn’t Alone in the Zero-Day Wild
Apple is not alone in this struggle. In recent months, tech giants like Microsoft, Adobe, and Google have also had to patch zero-day vulnerabilities that have been actively exploited in the deep Web. A June article on Dark Reading noted that there had been “a total of 18 security vulnerabilities exploited as unpatched zero-days in the wild,” and the number has since risen to 24. From all indications, attackers won’t slow down anytime soon, especially as new variants of already patched zero days continue to surface.
As adversaries continue to find loopholes across systems and security architectures, enterprise leaders must keep prioritizing proactive defenses to stay ahead of attacks. One way to be proactive, according to Craig Harber, CTO at Fidelis Cybersecurity, is for organizations to map cyber terrains by gaining full visibility into their entire systems.
“Discovery is a ballet of strategy, inventory, and evaluation. Organizations need the ability to continuously discover, classify, and assess assets — including servers, enterprise IoT, laptops, desktops, shadow IT, and legacy systems,” he notes.