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Google warns about new spyware targeting iOS and Android users




At this week’s hearing, the infamous spyware vendor NSO Group told European legislators that at least five EU countries are using powerful Pegasus surveillance malware. But as the reality of how NSO’s products are being abused around the world becomes increasingly clear, researchers are also trying to raise awareness that the employment monitoring industry is far beyond one company. It is working. On Thursday, Google’s Threat Analysis Group and the Project Zero Vulnerability Analysis Team released findings on the iOS version of spyware products from Italian developer RCS Labs.

Google researchers say they have detected spyware victims in Italy and Kazakhstan on both Android and iOS devices. Last week, security company Lookout published findings on the Android version of spyware. This spyware is called Hermit and belongs to RCS Labs. Lookout states that Italian officials used a version of spyware during the 2019 anti-corruption investigation. In addition to victims in Italy and Kazakhstan, Lookout also found data showing that unidentified entities used spyware to target northeastern Syria.

Google has been tracking the activity of commercial spyware vendors for years. Meanwhile, the industry is rapidly expanding from a small number of vendors to the entire ecosystem, TAG security engineer Clement Lecigne told WIRED. These vendors have enabled a proliferation of dangerous hacking tools, arming governments that are unable to develop these features in-house. However, there is little or no transparency in this industry. Therefore, it is important to share information about their features with these vendors.

TAG states that it is currently tracking over 30 spyware manufacturers that offer a range of technical features and advanced levels to government-sponsored clients.

In an analysis of the iOS version, Google researchers found that the attacker distributed iOS spyware using a fake app that looked like the MyVodafone app from a popular international mobile operator. In both Android and iOS attacks, the attacker could trick the victim into downloading what looks like a messaging app by distributing a malicious link for the victim to click. However, in a particularly dramatic case of iOS targeting, an attacker could work with a local ISP to disconnect a particular user’s mobile data connection, send a malicious download link via SMS, and launch a fake MyVodafone app. It turns out that I may have persuaded you to install it. Via Wi-Fi, this promises to restore cell service.

The attacker enrolled in Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program and obtained a certificate through a shell company, apparently called 3-1 Mobile SRL, that allowed the app to be sideloaded without going through Apple’s general App Store review process. I was able to distribute a malicious app.

Apple will inform WIRED that all known accounts and certificates associated with the spyware campaign have been revoked.

Enterprise certificates are intended for corporate internal use only and are not intended for general app distribution as they can be used to circumvent the App Store and iOS protection. The company wrote about sideloading in its October report. Despite the strict control and limited scale of the program, malicious individuals have found a way to gain unauthorized access, for example by purchasing a corporate certificate in the black market.




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