Kaspersky Lab mapped a massive international infrastructure used to control ‘Remote Control System’ (RCS) malware implants, and identify undiscovered mobile Trojans that work on Android and iOS.
These Trojans are part of spyware tool, RCS, also known as Galileo, developed by the Italian company, HackingTeam.
The list of victims indicated 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.
Kaspersky Lab has been working on different security approaches to locate Galileo’s command and control (C&C) servers around the globe. For the identification process, Kaspersky Lab experts relied on special indicators and connectivity data obtained by existing reverse engineering samples.
Kaspersky Lab’s researchers were able to map the presence of more than 320 RCS C&C servers in 40+ countries. The majority of the servers were in the United States, Kazakhstan, Ecuador, the United Kingdom and Canada.
“The presence of these servers in a given country doesn’t mean to say they are used by that particular country’s law enforcement agencies,” said Sergey Golovanov, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab. “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.”
In the past, researchers knew the HackingTeam’s mobile Trojans for iOS and Android existed, but nobody had actually identified them before or noticed them in attacks.
Kaspersky Lab has been researching the RCS malware for a couple of years. Earlier this year, they were able to identify certain samples of mobile modules that matched the other RCS malware configuration profiles in their collection. During the research, new variants of samples also ended up received from victims through the Kaspersky Lab cloud-based KSN network. In addition, the Kaspersky researches worked closely with Morgan Marquis-Boire from Citizen Lab, who has been researching the HackingTeam malware set extensively.
The operators behind the Galileo RCS built a specific malicious implant for every concrete target. Once the sample is ready, the attacker delivers it to the mobile device of the victim. Some of the known infection vectors include spear phishing via social engineering, often coupled with exploits, including Zero Days, and local infections via USB cables while synchronizing mobile devices.
One of the major discoveries has been learning precisely how a Galileo RCS mobile Trojan infects an iPhone, which first requires a device jail break. However, non-jailbroken iPhones can become vulnerable too because an attacker can run a jailbreaking tool like ‘Evasi0n’ via a previously infected computer and conduct a remote jailbreak, followed by the infection. To avoid infection risks, Kaspersky Lab recommends that people refrain from jailbreaking their iPhones, and also constantly update the iOS on the device to the latest version.
The RCS mobile modules operate in a discreet manner, for instance by paying close attention to the mobile device’s battery life. This end up implemented through carefully customized spying capabilities, or special triggers. For example, an audio recording may start only when a victim connects to a particular Wi-Fi network, or when that person changes the SIM card, or while the device is charging its battery power.
Overall, the RCS mobile Trojans are capable of performing a variety of surveillance functions, including reporting the target’s location, taking photos, copying events from the device’s calendar, and registering new SIM cards inserted in the infected device. It can also intercept phone calls and SMS messages, including chat messages sent from specific applications such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype.
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