What Is a Zero-Click Attack? Everything You Need to Know

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As the name suggests, a no-click hack can compromise a device without the owner’s intervention. While other attack vectors, such as phishing or smishing, use social engineering to trick people into clicking on the wrong links or launching what appears to be a legitimate download, zero-click attacks use existing vulnerabilities in operating systems to bypass this entirely. These should not be confused with zero-day attacks, which are vulnerabilities that are actively exploited and must be patched immediately, but require user action to execute.

Zero-click attacks allow access to a device without the user doing anything, which could catch even the most tech-savvy. The most notable recent zero-click attack is the Pegasus software from the Israeli company NSO Software. It’s been making headlines for years, with the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab highlighting attacks on iOS and Android devices in 2018 and again in 2021.

Although NSO denies any wrongdoing (Opens in a new window), Citizen Lab says that customers are using Pegasus to spy on activists and other high-profile officials. In December, Google’s Project Zero team published a technical analysis of the so-called FORCEDENTRY exploit used by NSO Group to infect target iPhones with its Pegasus spyware via iMessage.

How does a zero click attack work?

Zero-click attacks primarily target apps that provide messaging or voice calling features, such as WhatsApp or iMessage, as these services receive and analyze data from unknown sources. Hackers specifically create a piece of data, such as a hidden text message, email, voicemail, or image file, and send it to a target device over a wireless connection using Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, GSM or LTE. This data delivery then causes an unknown vulnerability at the hardware or software level.

What makes a zero click attack so dangerous?

Zero click attacks are very sophisticated. Advanced and well-funded hackers develop them to leave no trace, making them even more dangerous. A no-click email attack, for example, can copy your entire inbox before deleting itself. It goes without saying that a zero click attack takes security threats to a whole new level. Here are a few reasons why zero-click attacks are so much more deadly than conventional cyberattacks:

  • Zero-click attacks don’t require the victim to click a link, download an attachment, or stumble upon a malware-laden website. Since everything happens behind the scenes, users are completely unaware.
  • Attackers do not need to waste time setting up an elaborate trap or bait to entice victims to perform a task. This speeds up the proliferation of a zero-click attack.
  • Zero-click attacks install targeted tracking tools or spyware on victim devices by sending a message to a user’s phone that does not produce any notification. Users don’t even need to touch their phones for infections to start.
  • These attacks primarily target people with power or knowledge of cybersecurity, as attackers cannot trick them into clicking malicious links.
  • Zero-click attacks leave no traces or indicators of compromise.
  • Zero-click attacks employ the most advanced hacking techniques that can bypass any endpoint firewall, antivirus, or security system.

Are Zero-Click and Zero-Day attacks the same?

Most people confuse zero-click and zero-day attacks. While “zero” is the common denominator here, both attacks tend to have different connotations. A zero-day attack occurs when attackers exploit a software or hardware vulnerability and release malware before a developer has a chance to patch the vulnerability.

A zero-click attack, as we discussed earlier, requires zero clicks or interactions for it to take place. However, there is still a correlation between both types of attacks, as zero-click attacks sometimes take advantage of deeper, underlined zero-day bugs to carry out their attack. In a nutshell, since zero-day bugs have yet to be reported by developers, zero-click attacks take advantage of this aspect and perform exploits that are difficult to detect or investigate.

Is Pegasus Spyware a Zero Click Attack?

The Toronto-based Citizen Lab announced the discovery of a no-click attack that allowed hackers to install Pegasus malware on victims’ devices, including iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and Apple Watches. This latest case of Pegasus zero-click malware was detected in Apple’s iMessage service.

Attackers deliver Pegasus malware via a malicious PDF file that automatically executes code that turns the infected device into a listening device. Fortunately, Apple has since released a patch for this vulnerability via iOS 14.8/iPadOS 14.8 for iPhone and iPad and watchOS 7.6.2 for Apple Watch Series 3 and later.

Tips to protect yourself against zero click attacks

Unfortunately, due to the invisible nature of zero-click attacks, it is almost impossible to protect against them. But the good news is that these types of attacks mainly target high-profile personalities for political or financial espionage. Although you can’t mitigate zero-click attacks, the following tips can help minimize the risk:

  • Always keep your devices, apps, and browsers up to date.
  • Identifiers like your phone heating up, screen not charging, or calls being disconnected can sometimes be related to zero-click attacks. So be on the lookout for such erratic behavior.
  • Invest in strong antispyware and antimalware tools.
  • Always use a VPN when connecting to the Internet in public or unknown places.
  • For organizations, hiring third-party cybersecurity experts or bug bounty hunters can help you spot gaps and weaknesses.
  • If you’re a smartphone manufacturer or software developer, you need to thoroughly test your products against vulnerabilities before releasing them to the public.
  • Avoid jailbreaking a device. Apart from being a risky practice, it can also increase a device’s vulnerability to remote attacks due to installing apps that are not in the general app store or play store.
  • When installing a new app, read the fine print carefully and examine the permissions it asks for.

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staffhttps://www.bollyinside.com
The Bollyinside editorial staff is made up of tech experts with more than 10 years of experience Led by Sumit Chauhan. We started in 2014 and now Bollyinside is a leading tech resource, offering everything from product reviews and tech guides to marketing tips. Think of us as your go-to tech encyclopedia!

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