Let’s just say, for example, that you’re the FBI and you want to get access to a specific iPhone. You want all the user data, passwords, contents of emails, calls and the ability to, at will, turn it into a remote recording and listening device. How much does that cost?
According to The New York Times, that’ll work out to $115,000 per user for the first 10 iPhones; $650,000 for the access and $500,000 as a one-off set-up fee at a company like the secretive NSO Group.
With the increase in focus on encryption and protection, companies like the NSO Group are now more in demand than ever, and while that particular business says all its customers are vetted by an ethics committee, the problem is that the systems can be used however a government or company wants once it’s been sold.
NSO Group has also been caught recently trying to sneak spyware onto the phones of human rights activists and journalists, so it’s hard to maintain that this sort of tracking only takes place in cases of suspected terrorism or other illegal activity.
Undoubtedly, it’s a cat-and-mouse game – Apple’s recent iOS and OS X updates protect specifically against vulnerabilities that would give less sophisticated attackers access to iOS devices, but with a market worth billions of dollars each year, these security companies are unlikely to just stop looking for vulnerabilities and shut up shop.
The best the average user can do is know that nothing you do on your phone is truly private and keep your operating system as up-to-date as possible.