What Is a Zero-Click Attack and What Makes It So Dangerous?

As Internet users, we are always told that there are links and emails. Be extremely careful when clicking on attachments. And follow the best safety practices. While this advice applies to most cyberattacks, it, unfortunately, doesn’t save us from a ruthless click-less attack. Clickless attacks invade devices and systems without warning or human interaction, making them extremely difficult to detect and prevent.

What Is a Zero-Click Attack?

Not all cyber attacks are created equal or require user error to proliferate. As the name suggests, a zero-click attack takes place with “zero” mouse clicks, keystrokes, or user interactions. Hackers primarily direct these attacks to the abuse of vulnerabilities that already exist in an email software or application. Sometimes hackers sell these vulnerabilities on the black market, or companies offer generous rewards to those who find them. Clickless attacks are preferred by bushwhackers because they don’t bear any social engineering tactics to convert victims to click on vicious links or attachments. They also do not bear stoner commerce with victims, making it extremely delicate to track bushwhackers.

How Does a Zero-Click Attack Work?

Clickless attacks primarily target apps that provide messaging or voice calling functionality, such as WhatsApp or iMessage, as these services receive and analyze data from unknown sources. Hackers specially create a data item such as text message, email, voicemail, or hidden image file and transmit it to the target device via wireless connection using Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, GSM, or LTE. This data delivery then causes an unknown vulnerability in hardware or software. No-click attacks are known to target iPhones and iPads, and the vulnerability has been around since September 2012, when Apple first released the iPhone 5 with iOS 6.

What Makes a Zero-Click Attack So Dangerous?

Clickless attacks are very sophisticated. Advanced, well-funded hackers develop them to leave no traces, making them all the more dangerous. A clickless email attack, for example, can copy the entire inbox before deleting itself. Needless to say, a zero-click attack takes security threats to a whole new level. Here are a few reasons why clickless attacks are much deadlier than traditional cyberattacks: No-click attacks do not require a victim to click a link, download an attachment, or stumble upon a website that contains malware. Since everything is happening behind the scenes, users are completely oblivious.

Attackers don’t need to waste time setting up an elaborate trap or bait to trick victims into performing a task. This speeds up the proliferation of a clickless attack. Zero-click attacks install specifically targeted tracking tools or spyware on the victim’s devices by sending a message to a user’s phone that does not produce any notifications. Users don’t even have 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. Clickless attacks leave no trace or indicator of compromise. Clickless attacks use the most advanced hacking techniques that can bypass any endpoint security, antivirus, or firewall system.

Besides the reasons mentioned above, clickless attacks are expanding dramatically on the ever-increasing consumption of mobile devices by taking advantage of network coverage, Wi-Fi vulnerabilities, and the availability of valuable data.

In addition to being deceptive, these attacks are also growing rapidly with the increasing use of technology.

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, the two attacks mostly have different connotations.

A zero-day attack occurs after attackers exploit a software or hardware vulnerability and release malware before a developer has a chance to create a patch to fix the vulnerability.

A clickless attack, as we discussed earlier, does not require any clicks or interactions. However, there is still a correlation between the two types of attacks as sometimes zero-click attacks exploit the deepest and most highlighted zero-day vulnerabilities to complete their attack.

To put it simply, since developers have yet to report zero-day vulnerabilities, zero-click attacks take advantage of this aspect, thus performing exploits that will be difficult to detect or track down.

Is Pegasus Spyware a Zero-Click Attack?

In September 2021, the Toronto-based Citizen Lab announced the discovery of a clickless attack. This allowed hackers to install Pegasus malware on the victim’s device, including iPhones, iPods, MacBooks and Apple Watches.

This most recent case of zero-click Pegasus malware was discover in Apple’s iMessage service.

Attackers transfer the Pegasus malware using a malicious PDF that automatically executes code making infected devices into a listening device. Fortunately, Apple has since developed a patch for this vulnerability through iOS 14.8 / iPadOS 14.8 for iPhones and iPads, 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 clickless attacks, it is quite impossible to protect yourself from them. But the good news is that these types of attacks mostly target high-profile figures for political espionage or financial gain.

  • While you can’t mitigate click-less attacks, the following tips can help minimize the risk:
  • Always keep your devices, apps, and browsers up to date.
  • Credentials such as your phone get hot, screen not charge, or calls being disconnect can sometimes be linked to clickless attacks. So keep an eye out for such erratic behavior.
  • Invest in robust anti-spyware and anti-malware tools.
  • Always use a VPN when connecting to the internet in public or unfamiliar places.
  • For organizations, hiring outside cybersecurity experts or bug hunters can help you spot vulnerabilities and weak spots.
  • If you are a smartphone maker or software developer, you should thoroughly test your products for vulnerabilities before you release them to the public.
  • Avoid jailbreaking a device. Aside from being a risky practice, it can also increase a device’s vulnerability to remote attacks due to the installation of apps that are not on the general App Store or Play Store.
  • When installing a new app, carefully read the fine print and review the permissions it requests.

The fact that clickless attacks don’t require human interaction shouldn’t stop you from doing your best to mitigate risk. As a user, you should do everything in your power to make sure that hackers cannot easily exploit your devices.

Keep Ahead of Zero-Click Attacks With Software Updates

While there is no guarantee of protection against clickless attacks, the most effective way to reduce the risk is to update everything.

Most software vendors have code reviews among developers that they perform to minimize vulnerabilities in their products before release. Developers end up fixing clickless exploits in newer builds and builds.

In the fight against clickless attacks, the only way to come out victorious is to keep abreast of the latest developer updates and RAM Antivirus team.