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Apple urges iOS software update after spyware discovery

Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor shows journalists a screenshot of a spoof text message he received in United Arab Emirates. The text message reads: "New secrets on the torture of Emirati citizens in jail." (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor shows journalists a screenshot of a spoof text message he received in United Arab Emirates. The text message reads: "New secrets on the torture of Emirati citizens in jail." (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Apple says it is issuing a security update after powerful espionage software was found targeting an activist's iPhone in the Middle East.

Computer forensics experts tell The Associated Press the spyware takes advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system to take complete control of iPhone handsets.

The suspicious text message that appeared on Ahmed Mansoor's iPhone promised to reveal details about torture in the United Arab Emirates' prisons. All Mansoor had to do was click the link.

Mansoor, a human rights activist, didn't take the bait.

Instead, he reported it to Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog, setting off a chain reaction that in two weeks exposed a secretive Israeli cyberespionage firm, defanged a powerful new piece of eavesdropping software and gave millions of iPhone users across the world an extra boost to their digital security.

"It feels really good," Mansoor said in an interview from his sand-colored apartment block in downtown Ajman, a small city-state in the United Arab Emirates. Cradling his iPhone to show The Associated Press screenshots of the rogue text, Mansoor said he hoped the developments "could save hundreds of people from being targets."

Hidden behind the link in the text message was a highly targeted form of spyware crafted to take advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system.

Apple said in a statement that it fixed the vulnerability immediately after learning about it.

To update your iOS device

  • Plug your device into power and connect to the internet with wi-fi
  • Tap Settings > General > Software Update
  • Tap Download and Install. If a message asks to temporarily remove apps because iOS needs more space for the update, tap Continue or Cancel. Later, iOS will reinstall apps that it removed. 
  • To update now, tap Install. Or you can tap Later and choose Install Tonight or Remind Me Later. If you tap Install Tonight, just plug your iOS device into power before you go to sleep. Your device will update automatically overnight.
  • If asked, enter your passcode