Kaspersky Lab claims to have identified 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.
Research conducted by Kaspersky in partnership with Citizen Lab indicates that victims included activists and human rights advocates, as well as journalists and politicians.
One of the security vendor’s major discoveries has been learning how a Galileo mobile trojan infects an iPhone; to do so the device needs to be jailbroken.
Non-jailbroken iPhones can become vulnerable too, whereby an attacker can run a jailbreaking tool like ‘Evasi0n’ via a previously infected computer and conduct a jailbreak, followed by the infection.
Kaspersky said that the operators behind the Galileo RCS build specific malicious implants for every concrete target. Once the sample is ready, the attacker delivers it to the mobile device of the victim.
Known infection vectors include spear-phishing attacks via social engineering, often couple with exploits, including zero-days; with local infections delivered via USB cables while synchronizing mobile devices.
The RCS mobile modules are designed to operate in a discreet manner, supposedly implemented through carefully customized spying capabilities executed through special triggers.
Triggers can include, 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.
RCS mobile trojans are capable of performing 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; interception of phone calls and messages.
The latter includes regular text messages and those sent using over-the-top (OTT) services, such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype.
Kaspersky has stated that it has been working on different security approaches to locate Galileo’s command and control (C&C) 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's researchers were able to map the presence of more than 320 RCS C&C servers in over 40 countries.
Majority of the servers were based in the United States, Kazakhstan, Ecuador, the UK and Canada.
Kaspersky principal security researcher, Sergey Golovanov, said, “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. 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.”
Kaspersky has been researching the RCS malware for a couple of years and earlier this year, they were able to identify certain samples of mobile modules that matched the other RCS malware configuration profiles in their collection.
The company claims that in the past it had been known that HackingTeam’s mobile trojans for iOS and Android existed, but no organisation had previously identified them or noticed them being used in attacks.
New variants of samples received from victims through Kaspersky Lab's Cloud-based Security Network assisted with the investigation.