Google and Its Penchant for Bold Assertions

December 17, 2021

Google claimed quantum supremacy. Recently Google’s engineers studied the technology of the NSO Group and according to “A Deep Dive into an NSO Zero-Click iMessage Exploit: Remote Code Execution” found the “most technically sophisticated exploit ever seen.” The analysis is thorough and reflects considerable enthusiasm for disentangling some of the inner workings of Apple’s mobile operating system. I can almost hear the chuckles of the Google engineers as they figured out how the NSO Group compromised iPhones simply by sending the unlucky target a message packet.

Several observations:

  1. The NSO Group talks with other entities (people from university, a military unit, colleagues at limited attendance conference, etc.). Consequently information about methods seeps into the intelware community. This community is not quite like the Yacht Club in Manhattan, but it is similar: Traditions, friendships, bon homie, and the like.
  2. Intelware developers associated with other countries often gain access to specialized tools and services via connections with a nation state which is a customer of an specialized services firm, say, for argument’s sake, the NSO Group. It is probable that other entities have examined and replicated some of the NSO Group’s systems and methods. The fact that Google figured out the system and methods of this particular NSO Group service means that other groups can too. (It is possible that some at Google believe that their work is singular and not replicable. Yeah, high school science club thinking, perhaps?)
  3. Due to the connection between high value targets and the cachet of the Apple iPhone, figuring out how to penetrate an iPhone is a high value activity. Apple’s engineers are bright and were in their high school science clubs as well. However, engineers do not design to prevent unforeseeable flaws in their engineering innovations. This means that iPhones have flaws. When a device is the focus of attention of numerous nation states’ intelligence services, commercial enterprises in the zero day business, and companies with staff trained by military intelligence organizations — flaws will be found. My Arnold Rule for this situation is that insights will be discovered of which the original developer had no clue.

Kudos to Google for the NSO Group information. However, like quantum supremacy, the statements about the sophistication of the exploit are a bit like the claim for quantum supremacy. There are other entities in the Intel world which have capabilities which will surprise the “experts” just now discovering the world of intelware. Nice paper, very academic, but it reveals a disconnect between the world of the commercial researcher and the robust, broad intelware ecosystem.

Stephen E Arnold, December 17, 2021


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta