Candiru is a secretive Israel-based company that sells spyware exclusively to governments. Reportedly, their spyware can infect and monitor iPhones, Androids, Macs, PCs, and cloud accounts.
Using Internet scanning we identified more than 750 websites linked to Candiru’s spyware infrastructure. We found many domains masquerading as advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International, the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as media companies, and other civil-society themed entities.
We identified a politically active victim in Western Europe and recovered a copy of Candiru’s Windows spyware.
Working with Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) we analyzed the spyware, resulting in the discovery of CVE-2021-31979 and CVE-2021-33771 by Microsoft, two privilege escalation vulnerabilities exploited by Candiru. Microsoft patched both vulnerabilities on July 13th, 2021.
As part of their investigation, Microsoft observed at least 100 victims in Palestine, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Spain, United Kingdom, Turkey, Armenia, and Singapore. Victims include human rights defenders, dissidents, journalists, activists, and politicians.
We provide a brief technical overview of the Candiru spyware’s persistence mechanism and some details about the spyware’s functionality.
Candiru has made efforts to obscure its ownership structure, staffing, and investment partners. Nevertheless, we have been able to shed some light on those areas in this report.
We’re not going to be able to secure the Internet until we deal with the companies that engage in the international cyber-arms trade.
Wired is reporting on a company called Mollitiam Industries:
Marketing materials left exposed online by a third-party claim Mollitiam’s interception products, dubbed “Invisible Man” and “Night Crawler,” are capable of remotely accessing a target’s files, location, and covertly turning on a device’s camera and microphone. Its spyware is also said to be equipped with a keylogger, which means every keystroke made on an infected device — including passwords, search queries and messages sent via encrypted messaging apps — can be tracked and monitored.
To evade detection, the malware makes use of the company’s so-called “invisible low stealth technology” and its Android product is advertised as having “low data and battery consumption” to prevent people from suspecting their phone or tablet has been infected. Mollitiam is also currently marketing a tool that it claims enables “mass surveillance of digital profiles and identities” across social media and the dark web.
Sophisticated spyware, sold by surveillance tech companies to Mexican government agencies, are ending up in the hands of drug cartels:
As many as 25 private companies — including the Israeli company NSO Group and the Italian firm Hacking Team — have sold surveillance software to Mexican federal and state police forces, but there is little or no regulation of the sector — and no way to control where the spyware ends up, said the officials.
Lots of details in the article. The cyberweapons arms business is immoral in many ways. This is just one of them.
Interesting story of malware hidden in Google Apps. This particular campaign is tied to the government of Vietnam.
At a remote virtual version of its annual Security Analyst Summit, researchers from the Russian security firm Kaspersky today plan to present research about a hacking campaign they call PhantomLance, in which spies hid malware in the Play Store to target users in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India. Unlike most of the shady apps found in Play Store malware, Kaspersky’s researchers say, PhantomLance’s hackers apparently smuggled in data-stealing apps with the aim of infecting only some hundreds of users; the spy campaign likely sent links to the malicious apps to those targets via phishing emails. “In this case, the attackers used Google Play as a trusted source,” says Kaspersky researcher Alexey Firsh. “You can deliver a link to this app, and the victim will trust it because it’s Google Play.”
The first hints of PhantomLance’s campaign focusing on Google Play came to light in July of last year. That’s when Russian security firm Dr. Web found a sample of spyware in Google’s app store that impersonated a downloader of graphic design software but in fact had the capability to steal contacts, call logs, and text messages from Android phones. Kaspersky’s researchers found a similar spyware app, impersonating a browser cache-cleaning tool called Browser Turbo, still active in Google Play in November of that year. (Google removed both malicious apps from Google Play after they were reported.) While the espionage capabilities of those apps was fairly basic, Firsh says that they both could have expanded. “What’s important is the ability to download new malicious payloads,” he says. “It could extend its features significantly.”
Kaspersky went on to find tens of other, similar spyware apps dating back to 2015 that Google had already removed from its Play Store, but which were still visible in archived mirrors of the app repository. Those apps appeared to have a Vietnamese focus, offering tools for finding nearby churches in Vietnam and Vietnamese-language news. In every case, Firsh says, the hackers had created a new account and even Github repositories for spoofed developers to make the apps appear legitimate and hide their tracks.
Motherboard obtained and published the technical report on the hack of Jeff Bezos’s phone, which isbeingattributed to Saudi Arabia, specifically to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
…investigators set up a secure lab to examine the phone and its artifacts and spent two days poring over the device but were unable to find any malware on it. Instead, they only found a suspicious video file sent to Bezos on May 1, 2018 that “appears to be an Arabic language promotional film about telecommunications.”
That file shows an image of the Saudi Arabian flag and Swedish flags and arrived with an encrypted downloader. Because the downloader was encrypted this delayed or further prevented “study of the code delivered along with the video.”
Investigators determined the video or downloader were suspicious only because Bezos’ phone subsequently began transmitting large amounts of data. “[W]ithin hours of the encrypted downloader being received, a massive and unauthorized exfiltration of data from Bezos’ phone began, continuing and escalating for months thereafter,” the report states.
“The amount of data being transmitted out of Bezos’ phone changed dramatically after receiving the WhatsApp video file and never returned to baseline. Following execution of the encrypted downloader sent from MBS’ account, egress on the device immediately jumped by approximately 29,000 percent,” it notes. “Forensic artifacts show that in the six (6) months prior to receiving the WhatsApp video, Bezos’ phone had an average of 430KB of egress per day, fairly typical of an iPhone. Within hours of the WhatsApp video, egress jumped to 126MB. The phone maintained an unusually high average of 101MB of egress data per day for months thereafter, including many massive and highly atypical spikes of egress data.”
The Motherboard article also quotes forensic experts on the report:
A mobile forensic expert told Motherboard that the investigation as depicted in the report is significantly incomplete and would only have provided the investigators with about 50 percent of what they needed, especially if this is a nation-state attack. She says the iTunes backup and other extractions they did would get them only messages, photo files, contacts and other files that the user is interested in saving from their applications, but not the core files.
“They would need to use a tool like Graykey or Cellebrite Premium or do a jailbreak to get a look at the full file system. That’s where that state-sponsored malware is going to be found. Good state-sponsored malware should never show up in a backup,” said Sarah Edwards, an author and teacher of mobile forensics for the SANS Institute.
“The full file system is getting into the device and getting every single file on there — the whole operating system, the application data, the databases that will not be backed up. So really the in-depth analysis should be done on that full file system, for this level of investigation anyway. I would have insisted on that right from the start.”
The investigators do note on the last page of their report that they need to jailbreak Bezos’s phone to examine the root file system. Edwards said this would indeed get them everything they would need to search for persistent spyware like the kind created and sold by the NSO Group. But the report doesn’t indicate if that did get done.
The smartphone messaging app ToTok is actually an Emirati spying tool:
But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.
ToTok, introduced only months ago, was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. While the majority of its users are in the Emirates, ToTok surged to become one of the most downloaded social apps in the United States last week, according to app rankings and App Annie, a research firm.
Apple and Google have removed it from their app stores. If you have it on your phone, delete it now.
Tom’s Guide writes about home brew TEMPEST receivers:
Today, dirt-cheap technology and free software make it possible for ordinary citizens to run their own Tempest programs and listen to what their own — and their neighbors’ — electronic devices are doing.
Elliott, a researcher at Boston-based security company Veracode, showed that an inexpensive USB dongle TV tuner costing about $10 can pick up a broad range of signals, which can be “tuned” and interpreted by software-defined radio (SDR) applications running on a laptop computer.
WhatsApp is suing the Israeli cyberweapons arms manufacturer NSO Group in California court:
WhatsApp’s lawsuit, filed in a California court on Tuesday, has demanded a permanent injunction blocking NSO from attempting to access WhatsApp computer systems and those of its parent company, Facebook.
It has also asked the court to rule that NSO violated US federal law and California state law against computer fraud, breached their contracts with WhatsApp and “wrongfully trespassed” on Facebook’s property.
This could be interesting.
EDITED TO ADD: Citizen Lab has a research paper in the technology involved in this case. WhatsApp has an op ed on their actions. And this is a good news article on how the attack worked.
EDITED TO ADD: Facebook isdeleting the accounts of NSO Group employees.
At the CS3sthlm security conference later this month, security researcher Monta Elkins will show how he created a proof-of-concept version of that hardware hack in his basement. He intends to demonstrate just how easily spies, criminals, or saboteurs with even minimal skills, working on a shoestring budget, can plant a chip in enterprise IT equipment to offer themselves stealthy backdoor access…. With only a $150 hot-air soldering tool, a $40 microscope, and some $2 chips ordered online, Elkins was able to alter a Cisco firewall in a way that he says most IT admins likely wouldn’t notice, yet would give a remote attacker deep control.
The Spanish Soccer League’s smartphone app spies on fans in order to find bars that are illegally streaming its games. The app listens with the microphone for the broadcasts, and then uses geolocation to figure out where the phone is.
The Spanish data protection agency has ordered the league to stop doing this. Not because it’s creepy spying, but because the terms of service — which no one reads anyway — weren’t clear.
Kaspersky has releaseddetails about a sophisticated nation-state spyware it calls TajMahal:
The TajMahal framework’s 80 modules, Shulmin says, comprise not only the typical keylogging and screengrabbing features of spyware, but also never-before-seen and obscure tricks. It can intercept documents in a printer queue, and keep track of “files of interest,” automatically stealing them if a USB drive is inserted into the infected machine. And that unique spyware toolkit, Kaspersky says, bears none of the fingerprints of any known nation-state hacker group.
It was found on the servers of an “embassy of a Central Asian country.” No speculation on who wrote and controls it.
On Tuesday, a Google spokesperson told Business Insider the company had made an “error.”
“The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” the spokesperson said. “That was an error on our part.”
Where are the consumer protection agencies? They should be all over this.
And while they’re figuring out which laws Google broke, they should also look at American Airlines. Turns out that some of their seats have built-in cameras:
American Airlines spokesperson Ross Feinstein confirmed to BuzzFeed News that cameras are present on some of the airlines’ in-flight entertainment systems, but said “they have never been activated, and American is not considering using them.” Feinstein added, “Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines. Manufacturers of those systems have included cameras for possible future uses, such as hand gestures to control in-flight entertainment.”
That makes it all okay, doesn’t it?
Actually, I kind of understand the airline seat camera thing. My guess is that whoever designed the in-flight entertainment system just specced a standard tablet computer, and they all came with unnecessary features like cameras. This is how we end up with refrigerators with Internet connectivity and Roombas with microphones. It’s cheaper to leave the functionality in than it is to remove it.
The malware, known as Pegasus (or Trident), was created by Israeli cyber-security firm NSO Group and has been around for at least three years — when it was first detailed in a report over the summer of 2016.
The malware can operate on both Android and iOS devices, albeit it’s been mostly spotted in campaigns targeting iPhone users primarily. On infected devices, Pegasus is a powerful spyware that can do many things, such as record conversations, steal private messages, exfiltrate photos, and much much more.
From the report:
We found suspected NSO Pegasus infections associated with 33 of the 36 Pegasus operators we identified in 45 countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zambia. As our findings are based on country-level geolocation of DNS servers, factors such as VPNs and satellite Internet teleport locations can introduce inaccuracies.
Six of those countries are known to deploy spyware against political opposition: Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
On 17 September 2018, we then received a public statement from NSO Group. The statement mentions that “the list of countries in which NSO is alleged to operate is simply inaccurate. NSO does not operate in many of the countries listed.” This statement is a misunderstanding of our investigation: the list in our report is of suspected locations of NSO infections, it is not a list of suspected NSO customers. As we describe in Section 3, we observed DNS cache hits from what appear to be 33 distinct operators, some of whom appeared to be conducting operations in multiple countries. Thus, our list of 45 countries necessarily includes countries that are not NSO Group customers. We describe additional limitations of our method in Section 4, including factors such as VPNs and satellite connections, which can cause targets to appear in other countries.
Kaspersky Labs is reporting on a new piece of sophisticated malware:
We observed many web landing pages that mimic the sites of mobile operators and which are used to spread the Android implants. These domains have been registered by the attackers since 2015. According to our telemetry, that was the year the distribution campaign was at its most active. The activities continue: the most recently observed domain was registered on October 31, 2017. Based on our KSN statistics, there are several infected individuals, exclusively in Italy.
Moreover, as we dived deeper into the investigation, we discovered several spyware tools for Windows that form an implant for exfiltrating sensitive data on a targeted machine. The version we found was built at the beginning of 2017, and at the moment we are not sure whether this implant has been used in the wild.
It seems to be Italian. Ars Technica speculates that it is related to Hacking Team:
That’s not to say the malware is perfect. The various versions examined by Kaspersky Lab contained several artifacts that provide valuable clues about the people who may have developed and maintained the code. Traces include the domain name h3g.co, which was registered by Italian IT firm Negg International. Negg officials didn’t respond to an email requesting comment for this post. The malware may be filling a void left after the epic hack in 2015 of Hacking Team, another Italy-based developer of spyware.
Dark Caracal has operated a series of multi-platform campaigns starting from at least January 2012, according to our research. The campaigns span across 21+ countries and thousands of victims. Types of data stolen include documents, call records, audio recordings, secure messaging client content, contact information, text messages, photos, and account data. We believe this actor is operating their campaigns from a building belonging to the Lebanese General Security Directorate (GDGS) in Beirut.
It looks like a complex infrastructure that’s been well-developed, and continually upgraded and maintained. It appears that a cyberweapons arms manufacturer is selling this tool to different countries. From the full report:
Dark Caracal is using the same infrastructure as was previously seen in the Operation Manul campaign, which targeted journalists, lawyers, and dissidents critical of the government of Kazakhstan.
There’s a lot in the full report. It’s worth reading.
Alison Chaiken looks
in detail at how the kernel boots on opensource.com.
“Besides starting buggy spyware, what function does early boot
firmware serve? The job of a bootloader is to make available to a newly
powered processor the resources it needs to run a general-purpose operating
system like Linux. At power-on, there not only is no virtual memory, but no
DRAM until its controller is brought up.”
Researchers demonstrated a really clever hack: they hid malware in a replacement smart phone screen. The idea is that you would naively bring your smart phone in for repair, and the repair shop would install this malicious screen without your knowledge. The malware is hidden in touchscreen controller software, which is trusted by the phone.
The concern arises from research that shows how replacement screens — one put into a Huawei Nexus 6P and the other into an LG G Pad 7.0 — can be used to surreptitiously log keyboard input and patterns, install malicious apps, and take pictures and e-mail them to the attacker. The booby-trapped screens also exploited operating system vulnerabilities that bypassed key security protections built into the phones. The malicious parts cost less than $10 and could easily be mass-produced. Most chilling of all, to most people, the booby-trapped parts could be indistinguishable from legitimate ones, a trait that could leave many service technicians unaware of the maliciousness. There would be no sign of tampering unless someone with a background in hardware disassembled the repaired phone and inspected it.
Back in 2013, Der Spiegelreported that the NSA intercepts and collects Windows bug reports:
One example of the sheer creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method they use that exploits the error-proneness of Microsoft’s Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the annoying window that occasionally pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, an automatic message that prompts the user to report the bug to the manufacturer and to restart the program. These crash reports offer TAO specialists a welcome opportunity to spy on computers.
When TAO selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft. An internal presentation suggests it is NSA’s powerful XKeyscore spying tool that is used to fish these crash reports out of the massive sea of Internet traffic.
The automated crash reports are a “neat way” to gain “passive access” to a machine, the presentation continues. Passive access means that, initially, only data the computer sends out into the Internet is captured and saved, but the computer itself is not yet manipulated. Still, even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person’s computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim’s computer.
Although the method appears to have little importance in practical terms, the NSA’s agents still seem to enjoy it because it allows them to have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Seattle-based software giant. In one internal graphic, they replaced the text of Microsoft’s original error message with one of their own reading, “This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine.” (“Sigint” stands for “signals intelligence.”)
The article talks about the (limited) value of this information with regard to specific target computers, but I have another question: how valuable would this database be for finding new zero-day Windows vulnerabilities to exploit? Microsoft won’t have the incentive to examine and fix problems until they happen broadly among its user base. The NSA has a completely different incentive structure.
I don’t remember this being discussed back in 2013.
In early January of this year, in a conference room with a few other colleagues, we were at a point where we needed to decide how to balance convenience and privacy for our customers. The context being our team earnestly finalizing and prioritizing the launch features of our revamped Business Backup product. In the process, we introduced a piece of functionality that we call “Groups.” A Group is a mechanism that centralizes payment and simplifies management for multiple Backblaze users in a given organization or business. As with many services there were tradeoffs, but this one proved thornier than most.
The Trade-off Between Convenience and Privacy
The problem started as we considered the possibility of having a “Managed” Group. The concept is simple enough: Centralized billing is good, but there are clear use cases where a user would like to have someone act on their behalf. For instance, a business may want a System Administrator to create/manage restores on behalf of a group of employees. We have had many instances of someone from the home office ordering a hard drive restore for an employee in the field. Similarly, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) might provide, and potentially charge for, the service of creating/managing restores for their customers. In short, the idea of having an Administrator manage a defined collection of users (i.e. a Group) was compelling and added a level of convenience.
Great. It’s decided then, we need to introduce the concept of a Managed Group. And we’ll also have Unmanaged Groups. You can have infinite Groups of either kind, we’ll let the user decide!
Here’s the problem: The Managed Group feature could have easily been used for evil. For example, an overeager Administrator could restore an employee’s files, at anytime, for any reason – legitimate or nefarious. This felt wrong as we’re a backup company, not spyware company.
This is when the discussion got more interesting. By adding a convenience feature, we realized that there was potential for user privacy to be violated. As we worked through the use cases, we faced potential conflict between two of our guiding principles:
Make backup astonishingly easy. Whether you are a individual, family, or business (or some combination), we want to make your life easier.
Don’t be evil. With great data storage comes great responsibility. We are the custodians of sensitive data and take that seriously.
So how best to balance a feature that customers clearly want while enabling sane protections for all users? It was an interesting question internally – one where a fair amount of meetings, hallway conversations, and email exchanges were conducted in order to get it right.
Enabling Administration While Safeguarding Team Privacy
Management can be turned on for any Group at the time of Group Creation. As mentioned above, one Administrator can have as many Groups as desired and those Groups can be a mix of Managed and Unmanaged.
But there’s an interesting wrinkle – if Management is enabled, potential members of that Group are told that the feature is enabled before they join the Group.
We’ve, in plain terms, disclosed what is happening before the person starts backing up. If you read that and choose to start backing up, then you have been armed with full information.
Unfortunately, life isn’t that cut and dry. What if your company selected Backblaze and insists that everyone join the Group? Sure, you were told there are Administrators. Fine, my Administrator is supposed to act in the constructive interest of the Group. But what if the Admin is, as the saying goes, “for badness”?
Our solution, while seemingly innocuous, felt like it introduced a level of transparency and auditability that made us comfortable moving forward. Before an Administrator can do a restore on a Group Member’s behalf, the Admin is presented with a pop up that looks like this:
If the Admin is going to create a restore on a user’s behalf, then that user will be notified of the activity. A less than well intentioned Admin will have some reluctance if he knows the user will receive an email. Since permission for this type of activity was granted when the individual joined the Group, we do allow the Admin to proceed with the restore operation without further approval (convenience).
However, the user will get notified and can raise any questions or concerns as desired. There are no false positives, if the user gets an email, that means an Admin was going to restore data from the user’s account. In addition, because the mechanism is email, it creates an audit trail for the company. If there are users that don’t want the alerts, we recommend simply creating an email filter rule and putting them into a folder (in case some day you did want them).
The struggle for us was to strike the right balance between privacy and convenience. Specifically, we wanted to empower our users to set the mix where it is appropriate for them. In the case of Groups, it’s been interesting to see that 93% of Groups are of the “Managed” variety.
More importantly to us, we get consistently good feedback about the notification mechanisms in place. Even for organizations where one Admin may be taking a number of legitimate actions, we’re told that the notifications are appreciated in the spirit that they are intended. We’ll continue to solicit feedback and analyze usage to find ways to improve all of our features. But hearing and seeing customer satisfaction is a positive indicator that we’ve struck the appropriate balance between convenience and privacy.
The late 20th century philosopher, Judge Smails, once posited “the most important decision you can make right now is what do you stand for…? Goodness… or badness?”
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