Hackers have targeted politicians, journalists and activists using the 'legal' spyware tool, Galileo, with previously undiscovered mobile trojans that work on Android and iOS.
Kaspersky Lab has published a new research report mapping the presence of a large global infrastructure used to control 'Remote Control System' malware implants.
The report also identifies previously undiscovered mobile Trojans that work on both Android and iOS. The uncovered modules are part of the so-called 'legal' spyware tool, Galileo, developed by the Italian company, HackingTeam.
The list of victims referred to in the new research, conducted by Kaspersky Lab together with its partner Citizen Lab, includes activists and human rights advocates, as well as journalists and politicians, according to Kaspersky. One of the major discoveries has been learning precisely how a Galileo mobile Trojan infects an iPhone. It helps if the device is jailbroken. However, non-jailbroken iPhones can become vulnerable too.
An attacker can run a jailbreaking tool like 'Evasi0n' via a previously infected computer and conduct a remote jailbreak, followed by the infection, according to Kaspersky Lab. The operators behind the Galileo RCS build a specific malicious implant for every concrete target.
The attacker then delivers it to the mobile device of the victim.
Some of the known infection vectors include spear-phishing, attacks via social engineering, often coupled with exploits, including zero-days; with local infections delivered via USB cables while synchronising mobile devices. Kaspersky Lab's experts recommend that users avoid jailbreaking their iPhone, as well as ensuring that users constantly update the iOS on their device to the latest version. "The RCS mobile modules are meticulously designed to operate in a discreet manner," the report said.
"This is implemented through carefully customised spying capabilities executed through special triggers.
"For example, an audio recording may start only when a victim is connected to a particular Wi-Fi network; when the user changes the SIM card; or while the device is charging." In general, the RCS mobile Trojans are capable of performing many different kinds of surveillance functions, including reporting the target's location; taking photos; copying events from the calendar; registering new SIM cards inserted in the infected device; and interception of phone calls and messages.
In addition to regular SMS texts, the latter includes messages sent from specific applications such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype. Kaspersky Lab has been working on different security approaches to locate Galileo's command and control servers around the globe.
For identification process, experts relied on special indicators and connectivity data obtained through existing reverse engineering samples. During the latest analysis, Kaspersky Lab's researchers were able to map the presence of more than 320 RCS command and control servers in over 40 countries.
The majority of the servers were based in the United States, Kazakhstan, Ecuador, the UK and Canada. Kaspersky Lab principal researcher, Sergey Golovanov, said the presence of these servers in a given country didn't mean they were used by that particular country's law enforcement agencies.
"However, it makes sense for the users of RCS to deploy C&Cs in locations they control -- where there are minimal risks of cross-border legal issues or server seizures." Although in the past it had been known that HackingTeam's mobile Trojans for iOS and Android existed, no organisation has actually previously identified them or noticed them being used in attacks, according to Kaspersky.
New variants of samples received from victims through Kaspersky Lab's cloud-based Security Network assisted with the investigation.