Security Experts:

Kaspersky Discovers Powerful Mobile Spyware

Kaspersky Lab has shared details of a sophisticated, multi-stage mobile spyware that gives attackers the ability to take over an infected Android device, with advanced features that have never been seen before in other mobile threats. 

Named Skygofree, the mobile implant has been active since 2014 and has the ability to record nearby conversations and noise when an infected device enters a specified location.

Other advanced functions that have never been seen before include using Android’s Accessibility Services to access WhatsApp messages and the ability to connect an infected device to Wi-Fi networks controlled by the attackers.

“The implant carries multiple exploits for root access and is also capable of taking pictures and videos, seizing call records, SMS, geolocation, calendar events and business-related information stored in the device’s memory,” Kaspersky explained.

Furthermore, a special feature enables it to circumvent a battery-saving technique used on China-made Huawei devices by adding itself to the list of ‘protected apps’ so that it is not switched off automatically when the screen is off. 

"Due to this feature, it is clear that the developers paid special attention to the work of the implant on Huawei devices," Kaspersky's researchers noted.

Designed for targeted cyber-surveillance, Kaspersky said the malware could be an offensive security product used for law enforcement purposes, similar to products offered by Hacking Team, a controversial Italy-based company that develops and sells surveillance technology to governments around the world.

Kaspersky did not provide statistics on the number of Android devices that may have been infected, but the number appears to be relatively small. There are “several infected individuals,” all located in Italy, Kaspersky said.

“Given the artefacts we discovered in the malware code and our analysis of the infrastructure, we have a high level of confidence that the developer behind the Skygofree implants is an Italian IT company that offers surveillance solutions, rather like HackingTeam,” said Alexey Firsh, Malware Analyst, Targeted Attacks Research, Kaspersky Lab.

The operators used spoofed landing pages that mimic the sites of mobile operators for spreading the implant, and Kaspersky’s researchers found 48 different commands that can be leveraged by the attackers.

Kaspersky provided technical analysis on Skygofree in an associated blog post, including an overview of the various commands, along with details on a number of modules that target computers running Microsoft Windows.

“High end mobile malware is very difficult to identify and block and the developers behind Skygofree have clearly used this to their advantage: creating and evolving an implant that can spy extensively on targets without arousing suspicion,” Firsh said.

The attacks are ongoing and the most recent domain was registered in October 2017. 

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For more than 10 years, Mike Lennon has been closely monitoring the threat landscape and analyzing trends in the National Security and enterprise cybersecurity space. In his role at SecurityWeek, he oversees the editorial direction of the publication and is the Director of several leading security industry conferences around the world.