What Is a Zero-Click Attack?


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In the ever-evolving world of cybersecurity, threats become more sophisticated every day. Among these threats, one particularly concerning type is the zero-click attack. Unlike traditional cyber attacks that require some form of user interaction, zero-click attacks can infiltrate devices without any clicks, taps, or actions from the user. This blog will explore what zero-click attacks are, how they work, historical examples, and how you can protect yourself against them.

Understanding Zero-Click Attacks

A zero-click attack is a form of cyber attack that can compromise a device without any interaction from the user. These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in software, often within messaging apps or other communication platforms, to execute malicious code silently. Once the attack is launched, the hacker can gain control over the device, access sensitive data, or perform other malicious activities without the victim ever realizing their device has been compromised.

How Do Zero-Click Attacks Work?

Zero-click attacks typically exploit software vulnerabilities in applications that receive and process data automatically, such as emails, text messages, or multimedia messages. Here’s a step-by-step look at how these attacks generally work:

  1. Identify a Vulnerability: Hackers first identify a vulnerability in the target application or operating system. This could be a bug or a flaw in the code that can be exploited.
  2. Craft a Malicious Payload: Once a vulnerability is identified, the hacker creates a malicious payload designed to exploit the flaw. This payload is often embedded in a seemingly innocuous piece of data, like an image or a message.
  3. Send the Payload: The hacker sends the malicious payload to the target device. Because the payload is designed to exploit a zero-click vulnerability, the user does not need to open the message or interact with the content for the attack to be successful.
  4. Execute the Attack: The malicious code executes as soon as the vulnerable application processes the payload, allowing the attacker to gain control over the device or access sensitive information.

Historical Examples of Zero-Click Attacks

Several high-profile zero-click attacks have been reported over the years, highlighting the severe implications of such vulnerabilities.

Pegasus Spyware
Al menos 35 periodistas y activistas en El Salvador fueron espiados con Pegasus 2 scaled
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most notorious examples of a zero-click attack involves the Pegasus spyware, developed by the Israeli cyber-intelligence firm NSO Group. Pegasus has been used to target journalists, activists, and political figures. The spyware exploits vulnerabilities in messaging apps like WhatsApp and iMessage, allowing attackers to gain complete access to the target’s device without any user interaction.

  • Insight: The Pegasus spyware incident highlighted the importance of securing messaging platforms and the potential for zero-click attacks to compromise even the most vigilant users.
iMessage Exploits

In 2019, Google’s Project Zero team discovered several zero-click vulnerabilities in Apple’s iMessage platform. These vulnerabilities allowed attackers to send a specially crafted message that could execute malicious code on the recipient’s device without any user interaction.

Why Are Zero-Click Attacks So Dangerous?

Zero-click attacks are particularly dangerous for several reasons:

  1. No User Interaction Needed: Since these attacks require no user interaction, even the most cautious users can fall victim.
  2. Difficult to Detect: Because they do not rely on user actions, zero-click attacks are challenging to detect. Victims may not realize their devices have been compromised until it’s too late.
  3. Access to Sensitive Data: Once a device is compromised, attackers can access sensitive data, including personal information, passwords, and even encrypted communications.
  4. Persistent Threat: Some zero-click exploits can persist even after the device is rebooted, making them particularly difficult to remove.

How to Protect Yourself Against Zero-Click Attacks

While zero-click attacks are sophisticated and challenging to defend against, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  1. Keep Software Updated: Regularly update your operating system and applications to ensure you have the latest security patches.
  2. Use Reputable Security Software: Install and maintain reputable security software that can detect and prevent malware and other threats.
  3. Limit App Permissions: Restrict app permissions to only what is necessary. For example, limit access to your microphone, camera, and contacts.
  4. Be Cautious with Messages: While zero-click attacks require no interaction, being cautious about unsolicited messages and unknown contacts can reduce your exposure to potential threats.
  5. Regularly Back Up Data: Regularly back up your data to minimize the impact if your device is compromised.

The Future of Zero-Click Attacks

As technology continues to evolve, so too will the methods used by cyber attackers. The increasing complexity of software and the growing number of connected devices provide more opportunities for zero-click vulnerabilities to be exploited.

Industry Response

Tech companies and cybersecurity firms are constantly working to identify and patch vulnerabilities that could be exploited by zero-click attacks. For instance, Apple has made significant investments in security research and has implemented measures to make it more difficult for such exploits to be successful.


Zero-click attacks represent a sophisticated and insidious form of cyber threat that can compromise devices without any user interaction. Understanding how these attacks work and taking proactive steps to protect your devices can help mitigate the risk. As technology continues to advance, staying informed and vigilant will be crucial in defending against these and other emerging cyber threats.

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