Kaspersky Lab reports mapping a massive international infrastructure used to control "Remote Control System" (RCS) malware implants, and identifying previously undiscovered mobile Trojans that work on both Android and iOS.
These Trojans are part of the allegedly "legal" spyware tool, RCS, aka Galileo, developed by the Italian company, HackingTeam, according to Kapersky's research.
The list of victims indicated in separate research reports, conducted independently by Kaspersky Lab and Citizen Lab, includes activists and human rights advocates, as well as journalists and politicians.
The security provider has been working on different approaches to locate Galileo's command and control (C&C) servers around the world. For the identification process, Kaspersky Lab experts relied on special indicators and connectivity data obtained by existing reverse engineering samples.
During the latest analysis, researchers were able to map the presence of more than 320 RCS C&C servers in 40+ countries. The majority of the servers were found in the United States, Kazakhstan, Ecuador, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Although in the past it had been known that HackingTeam's mobile Trojans for iOS and Android existed, nobody had actually identified them before or noticed them being used in attacks. Kaspersky Lab has been researching the RCS malware for a couple of years now.
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 most recent research, new variants of samples were also received from victims through the Kaspersky Lab cloud-based KSN network. In addition, the company’s experts 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 spearphishing 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 the device to be jailbroken. 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, refrain from jailbreaking their iPhones, and also constantly update the iOS on the device to the latest version.
The RCS mobile modules are meticulously designed to operate in a discreet manner, for instance by paying close attention to the mobile device's battery life. This is implemented through carefully customized spying capabilities, or special triggers.
For example, an audio recording may start only when a victim is connected 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.