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'Hermit' Spyware Deployed in Syria, Kazakhstan, and Italy



Lookout Inc. discovered an enterprise-grade Android surveillanceware being used by the authorities operating within Kazakhstan's borders. Lookout researchers identified evidence of the spyware, called "Hermit," being used in Italy and northern Syria. 

Researchers got a sample of "Hermit" in April 2022, four months after a series of violently suppressed nationwide rallies against government policies. The Hermit spyware was most likely built by RCS Lab S.p.A, an Italian surveillance firm, and Tykelab Srl. 

The Hermit spyware was most likely produced by Italian surveillance vendor RCS Lab S.p.A and Tykelab Srl, a telecommunications solutions company accused of acting as a front company, according to Lookout. 

In the same market as Pegasus creator NSO Group Technologies and Gamma Group, which invented FinFisher, is a well-known developer with previous interactions with governments such as Syria. This appears to be the first time that a modern RCS Lab mobile spyware client has been publicly disclosed. 

The spyware is said to be spread by SMS messages that spoof users into installing what appear to be harmless apps from Samsung, Vivo, and Oppo, which, when launched, load a website from the impersonated company while silently initiating the kill chain. 

Spyware has been seen to infect Android smartphones in the past. The threat actor APT-C-23 (aka Arid Viper) was linked to a series of attacks targeting Middle Eastern users with new FrozenCell versions in November 2021. Last month, Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) revealed that government-backed actors in Egypt, Armenia, Greece, Madagascar, Côte d'Ivoire, Serbia, Spain, and Indonesia are purchasing Android zero-day exploits for covert surveillance efforts. 

As per Lookout, the samples studied used a Kazakh language website as a decoy, and the main Command-and-control (C2) server used by this app was a proxy, with the true C2 being located on an IP from Kazakhstan. "They call themselves 'lawful intercept' organizations since they claim to only sell to customers with legitimate surveillance purposes, such as intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Under the pretext of national security, similar technologies have been used to phish on corporate executives, human rights activists, journalists, academics, and government officials "as per the researchers. 

The revelations came as the Israel-based NSO Group is rumored to be in talks to sell its Pegasus technology to US defense contractor L3Harris, which makes StingRay cellular phone trackers, raising concerns it could allow law enforcement to deploy the controversial hacking tool.

Emotet Malware: Shut Down Last Year, Now Showing a Strong Resurgence

 

The notorious Emotet malware operation is exhibiting a strong resurgence more than a year after being effectively shut down. Check Point researchers put the Windows software nasty at the top of their list as the most commonly deployed malware in a March threat index, threatening or infecting as many as 10% of organisations around the world during the month – an almost unbelievable figure, and more than double that of February. 

Now, according to Kaspersky Labs, a swiftly accelerating and sophisticated spam email campaign is intriguing targets with fraudulent emails designed to swindle them into unpacking and installing Emotet or Qbot malware, which can steal data, collect information on a compromised corporate network, and move laterally through the network to install ransomware or other trojans on networked computers. 

Qbot, which is associated with Emotet's operators, is also capable of accessing and stealing emails. In a blog post this week, Kaspersky's email threats protection group manager, Andrey Kovtun, stated. In February, Kaspersky discovered 3,000 malicious Emotet-linked emails, followed by 30,000 a month later, in languages including English, French, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Spanish. 

Kovtun wrote, "Some letters that cybercriminals send to the recipients contain a malicious attachment. In other cases, it has a link which leads to a file placed in a legitimate popular cloud-hosting service. Often, malware is contained in an encrypted archive, with the password mentioned in the e-mail body." 

The spam email often claims to include essential information, such as a commercial offer, in order to persuade the recipient to open the attachment or download the harmful file via the link. "Our experts have concluded that these e-mails are being distributed as part of a coordinated campaign that aims to spread banking Trojans," he wrote further. 

Cryptolaemus, a group of security researchers and system administrators formed more than two years ago to combat Emotet, announced on Twitter this week that one of the botnet subgroups has switched from 32-bit to 64-bit for loaders and stealer modules, indicating the botnet's operators' continued development. Emotet immediately resurfaced in the malware world's upper echelons. Europol, along with police departments from the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine, completed a multinational takedown of the primary botnet deploying Emotet in February 2021. Raids on the accused operators' houses in Ukraine were part of the operation. 

The raid, according to Europol, substantially impacted Emotet's operations, which were used to infiltrate thousands of firms and millions of computers around the world. However, in publishing its March threat index, Check Point Research stated that Emotet resurfaced in November 2021 and has gained traction after the Trickbot botnet infrastructure was shut down in February. It is once again the most common malware. 

The researchers wrote, "This was solidified even further [in March] as many aggressive email campaigns have been distributing the botnet, including various Easter-themed phishing scams exploiting the buzz of the festivities. These emails were sent to victims all over the world with one such example using the subject 'Buona Pasqua, happy easter,' yet attached to the email was a malicious XLS file to deliver Emotet." 

Google Researchers: 'Zero-Day’ Hacks Hit Record in 2021

 

Following a year marked by high-profile ransomware assaults and supply-chain hacks, Google researchers have uncovered another alarming cyber milepost for 2021: a record number of "zero-day" exploits. A zero-day exploit is a previously undisclosed flaw that gives software developers exactly 0 days to fix it. As a result, the technology in question is extremely lucrative to hackers - and a disaster for cyber-security experts. 

According to a report released Tuesday (April 19) by Google's Project Zero, a team of specialist bug hunters, hackers attacked a total of 58 zero-day defects affecting key software suppliers in 2021. In 2020, there were 25 flaws, compared to 21 in 2019. Since Project Zero began tracking zero-days in 2014, this is the largest number of zero-days ever recorded. 

Ms Maddie Stone, a security researcher at Project Zero, stated in a blog post about the findings that the trend could be attributed to an enhancement in identification from companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google, who now publicly report their findings around zero-day concerns, rather than a spike in hacks. 

Hackers have utilized the attack approach in recent years to install powerful spyware on smartphones, which has then been used to spy on journalists, lawmakers, human rights activists, and others. Last year, suspected Chinese state-sponsored hackers used such vulnerabilities to compromise Microsoft Exchange servers. 

Ms Stone of Google stated that the data contained some surprises. Despite the recent attention on spyware abuse, cyber-security researchers are still unable to find zero-day vulnerabilities that allow hackers to exploit systems. 

She wrote, "We know that messaging applications like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, etc are targets of interest to attackers and yet there's only one messaging app, in this case, iMessage, zero-day found this past year." 

Since 2014, the team has discovered two such flaws, one in WhatsApp in 2019 and the other in iMessage in 2021. According to Ms Stone, the majority of individuals on the planet are not at risk of being targeted by a zero-day attack. 

Nonetheless, she believes that such attacks have a widespread influence. "These zero-days tend to have an outsized impact on society so we need to continue doing whatever we can to make it harder for attackers to be successful."

Vidar Spyware Exploits Microsoft Help Files to Bypass Detection

 

Vidar spyware has been discovered in a new phishing campaign that exploits Microsoft HTML help files. The spyware is hidden in Microsoft Compiled HTML Help (CHM) files to bypass detection in email spam campaigns, Trustwave cybersecurity expert Diana Lopera stated. 

Vidar is Windows spyware and an information stealer capable of harvesting both user data and data on the operating system, cryptocurrency account credentials as well as payment details such as credit card details. 

While threat actors often distribute malware via spam and phishing campaigns, Trustwave researchers have also uncovered the C++ malware being deployed via the pay-per-install PrivateLoader dropper, and the Fallout exploit kit. 

According to researchers, threat actors employ an age-old strategy of tricking people to download seemingly innocent files that are actually malicious. The malicious files contain a generic subject line and an attachment, "request.doc," which is actually a .iso disk image. The .iso contains two separate files: a Microsoft-compiled HTML help file (CHM), often titled pss10r.chm, and an executable file titled app.exe. 

The CHM format is a Microsoft online extension file used for accessing documentation and help files. The compressed HTML format allows the distribution of images, tables and links. However, when malicious actors abuse CHM, they can use the format to force Microsoft Help Viewer (hh.exe) to deploy CHM objects. 

When a malicious CHM file is unpacked, a JavaScript snippet will silently execute app.exe, and while both files have to be in the same directory, this can trigger the execution of the Vidar payload. 

The Vidar samples gathered by the attacker’s link to their command-and-control (C2) server via Mastodon, a multi-platform open-source social networking system. Specific profiles are searched, and C2 addresses are collected from user profile bio sections. This allows the spyware to design its configuration and start exfiltrating user data. 

To protect yourself against this campaign, you should strictly follow the standard protections against email spam, such as ensuring the source of email before downloading any attachments. It's also a good idea to use the best antivirus software to protect your PC. 

"Since this Vidar campaign utilizes social engineering and phishing, ongoing security awareness training for your staff is essential. Organizations should also consider implementing a secure email gateway for 'defense in depth' layered security in order to filter these types phishing attacks before they even get to any inboxes,” stated Karl Sigler, Trustwave threat intelligence manager. 

"Vidar itself is an information stealer type of malware. It grabs as much data as it can from the victim's system, sends it back to the attackers, and then deletes itself. This includes any local password stores, web browser cookies, crypto wallets, contact databases, and other types of potentially valuable data."

PseudoManuscrypt Malware Proliferating Similarly as CryptBot Targets Koreans

 

Since at least May 2021, a botnet known as PseudoManuscrypt has been targeting Windows workstations in South Korea, using the same delivery methods as another malware known as CryptBot. 

South Korean cybersecurity company AhnLab Security Emergency Response Center (ASEC) said in a report published, "PseudoManuscrypt is disguised as an installer that is similar to a form of CryptBot and is being distributed. Not only is its file form similar to CryptBot but it is also distributed via malicious sites exposed on the top search page when users search commercial software-related illegal programs such as Crack and Keygen."
  
According to ASEC, approximately 30 computers in the country are compromised on a daily basis on average. PseudoManuscrypt was originally discovered in December 2021, when Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky revealed details of a "mass-scale spyware attack campaign" that infected over 35,000 PCs in 195 countries around the world. 

PseudoManuscrypt attacks, which were first discovered in June 2021, targeted a large number of industrial and government institutions, including military-industrial complex firms and research in Russia, India, and Brazil, among others. The primary payload module has a wide range of spying capabilities, enabling the attackers virtually complete access over the compromised device. Stealing VPN connection data, recording audio with the microphone, and capturing clipboard contents and operating system event log data are all part of it. 

Additionally, PseudoManuscrypt can access a remote command-and-control server controlled by the attacker to perform malicious tasks like downloading files, executing arbitrary instructions, log keypresses, and capturing screenshots and videos of the screen. 

The researchers added, "As this malware is disguised as an illegal software installer and is distributed to random individuals via malicious sites, users must be careful not to download relevant programs. As malicious files can also be registered to service and perform continuous malicious behaviours without the user knowing, periodic PC maintenance is necessary."

Malware Seller Faces Charges for Peddling WhatsApp Espionage Tools

 

The US Justice Department (DoJ) reported a Mexican businessman named Carlos Guerrero admitted guilt in federal court for peddling spyware/hacking tools to clients in the United States and Mexico.

Authorities accused Guerrero of facilitating the sale of monitoring and surveillance technologies to both Mexican government users and private customers for commercial and personal purposes. Guerrero "knowingly arranged" for a Mexican mayor to obtain access to a political rival's email and social media accounts, according to the investigators. Guerrero also utilized the technology to listen in on the phone calls of a rival from the United States who had been in Southern California and Mexico at the time. 

Guerrero is also suspected of assisting a Mexican mayor in gaining unlawful access to his rival's iCloud, Hotmail, as well as Twitter pages, according to the Department of Justice's news release. A sales representative's phone and email data were hacked in another case, so he had to pay $25,000 to regain the information. The accused also utilized the gadgets to listen more into his rival's phone calls in Mexico and South California. Guerrero's company, Elite by Carga, imported surveillance technology and espionage tools from unknown Israeli, Italian, and other companies. 

Guerrero operated as a broker for an undisclosed Italian business, referred to only as Company A in the accusation, which offered bugging devices and tracking tools between 2014 and 2015. The organization is thought to be Hacking Team, a bankrupt Milan-based maker of offensive infiltration tools which was also breached in 2015 and had leaked emails leaked online, including a cache of Guerrero-related messages. 

Pegasus, strong mobile spyware created by Israeli corporation NSO Group which can acquire near-complete permissions on a target's smartphone, is among the most prominent and reported keylogging software used in Mexico. Over the last two decades, Mexico has spent $61 million on contracts, primarily targeting journalists, activists, and human rights defenders. According to a leaked list of phone numbers suspected to be NSO surveillance targets, Mexico has the most targets — around 700 phones — of any country on the list, which NSO has consistently denied.

Guerrero's information director Daniel Moreno, who is often mentioned in the hacking team's emails, is scheduled to file a similar pleading in the coming weeks.

Pay to Play PrivateLoader Disseminates Smokeloader, Redline &Vidar malware

 

An investigation at a pay-per-install loader has revealed its role in the distribution of famous malware variants including Smokeloader and Vidar. 

Intel 471 issued a report on PrivateLoader on Tuesday, analyzing cyberattacks that have used the loader since May 2021. The pay-per-install (PPI) malware service has been around for a time, but it's unclear who is responsible for its creation. Additional payloads are deployed on a target machine using loaders. 

PrivateLoader is a variation that is supplied to criminal customers on an installation basis, with payment based on the number of victims captured. PrivateLoader is managed by a collection of command-and-control (C2) servers and an AdminLTE 3-based administrator panel. 

Adding new users, configuring the loader to install a payload, picking target regions and nations, setting up payload download links, encryption, and selecting browser extensions for infecting target devices are all available through the front-end panel. 

The loader is mainly distributed through websites that sell pirated software. Cracked copies of popular software, which are occasionally included with key generators, are illegal versions of software that have been modified to avoid licencing or payment. On websites, download buttons for cracked software are included with JavaScript, which releases the payload in a.ZIP archive. 

The package contained a malicious executable, according to the cybersecurity firm's findings. A false GCleaner load reseller, PrivateLoader, and Redline are among the malware that is triggered by .exe file. 

Since at least May 2021, the PrivateLoader module has been used to run Smokeloader, Redline, and Vidar. Smokeloader is the most well-known of these malware families. Smokeloader is a distinct loader that can also be utilized for data theft and reconnaissance; Redline specializes in credential theft, whereas Vidar is spyware that can steal data from a variety of data types, including passwords, documents, and digital wallet details. 

A distribution link for Smokeloader also signals a possible connection to the Qbot banking Trojan. The Kronos banking Trojan and the Dridex botnet have both been disseminated using PrivateLoader bots. 

Although PrivateLoader isn't particularly linked to the distribution of ransomware, a loader associated with it, known as Discoloader, has been used in assaults aimed at spreading the malware. 

The researchers stated, "PPI services have been a pillar of cybercrime for decades. Just like the wider population, criminals are going to flock to software that provides them with a wide array of options to easily achieve their goals. By highlighting the versatility of this malware, we hope to give defenders the chance to develop unique strategies in thwarting malware attacks empowered by PrivateLoader."

441K accounts Were Taken by RedLine Virus, according to Have I Been Pwned.

 

Have I Been Pwned may now search the RedLine data for 441,657 unique email addresses taken by RedLine. RedLine is viewed as right now the most generally utilized data-taking malware. It is conveyed through phishing efforts with pernicious connections, YouTube tricks, and warez/break locales. The RedLine malware, once introduced, will endeavor to take qualifications, treats, Visas, and auto-complete data put away in programs. 

The Have I Been Pwned information on data breach notice currently allows you to browse in the event that your email and secret phrase are one of 441,000 records taken in a data-taking effort utilizing RedLine malware. 

The illegally taken information is gathered into a file, called "logs," and transferred to a distant server from where the aggressor can later gather them. Aggressors utilize these logs to think twice about records or sell them on dull web criminal commercial centers for just $5 per log. 

RedLine is a trojan that may be purchased individually or as part of a membership-based on underground forums. This spyware collects information from applications such as saved accreditations, autocomplete data, and Mastercard information. When executing on an objective system, a framework inventory is taken to include details such as the username, location information, equipment setup, and information about installed security programming. Later versions of RedLine included the ability to accept digital currency. This malware can transfer and download records, execute orders, and occasionally send back data about the infected PC. FTP and IM customers are also clearly identified by this family, and this malware can transfer and download records, execute orders, and occasionally send back data about the infected PC. 

Bob Diachenko, a security researcher, discovered a site with over 6 million RedLine logs from August and September 2021 last weekend. This server was most likely utilized by the threat actor to store stolen data, although it was not effectively secured. The server is still accessible, according to Diachenko, but it does not appear to be used by threat actors because the amount of logs has not increased. 

Diachenko shared the data with Troy Hunt, who added it to his Have I Been Pwned service to make it simpler for others to check if a hacker got their data in the exposed RedLine malware operation. 

Have I Been Pwned assuming an organization you have a record with, has experienced an information break it's conceivable your email might have been pwned; presented to cybercriminals haveibeenpwned.com(link is outside) is a site that checks assuming a record has been compromised 

RedLine is attempting to steal cryptocurrency wallets, you should transfer any tokens you hold to another wallet and reset the passwords for all accounts used on the machine, including work VPN and email accounts, as well as other personal accounts.

Ultimately, if your email address appears in the RedLine data, you should run an antivirus scan on your computer to detect and remove any malware.

Citizen Lab Exposes Cytrox as Vendor Behind 'Predator' iPhone Spyware

 

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has found yet another player in the private sector mobile spyware market, citing a small North Macedonian firm called Cytrox as the maker of high-end iPhone implants. 

Citizen Lab worked with Facebook parent company Meta's threat-intelligence team to expose Cytrox and a handful of other PSOAs (private sector offensive actors) in the murky surveillance-for-hire industry. Citizen Lab stated that Cytrox is behind a piece of iPhone spying malware that was put on the phones of two prominent Egyptians, according to a detailed technical analysis published. 

Predator, the malware, was able to infect the most recent iOS version (14.6) utilising single URLs provided via WhatsApp. Exiled Egyptian politician Ayman Nour was spooked by his iPhone overheating, and later discovered evidence of two different spyware applications running on the device, administered by two different government APT actors. 

The Egyptian government, a known Cytrox customer, has been attributed with the attack, according to Citizen Lab. Nour's phone was infected with both Cytrox's Predator and Israeli vendor NSO Group's more well-known Pegasus spyware, according to Citizen Lab. Citizen Lab's exposé detailed Cytrox's background as a startup launched in 2017 by Ivo Malinkovksi, a North Macedonian who later integrated the company with Intellexa and publicly hawked digital forensics tools. The firm claims to be established in the European Union, with R&D labs and sites all over Europe. 

In a separate advisory published by Meta’s security team, Cytrox is listed alongside Cobwebs Technologies, Cognate, Black Cupe, Bluehawk CI, BellTroX and two unknown Chinese entities among a growing roster of private companies in the surveillance-for-hire business. 

These firms handle the reconnaissance, engagement, and exploitation phases of advanced malware campaigns for governments and law enforcement agencies all across the world, including those that target journalists, politicians, and other members of civil society. 

Cytrox was recognised as a company that "develops exploits and sells surveillance tools and viruses that enable its clients to compromise iOS and Android devices," as per Facebook's team. 

Facebook’s security team stated, “[We were] able to find a vast domain infrastructure that we believe Cytrox used to spoof legitimate news entities in the countries of their interest and mimic legitimate URL-shortening and social media service.” 

“They used these domains as part of their phishing and compromise campaigns. Cytrox and its customers took steps to tailor their attacks for particular targets by only infecting people with malware when they passed certain technical checks, including IP address and device type. If the checks failed, people could be redirected to legitimate news or other websites.” 

“Targets of Cytrox and its customers included politicians and journalists around the world, including in Egypt and Armenia.”

Pegasus Spyware Reportedly Hacked iPhones of U.S. State Department & Diplomats

 

An unidentified party used NSO Group's Pegasus spyware to attack the Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials, as per a report published Friday by Reuters. 

After receiving a query about the incident, NSO Group indicated in an email to The Register that it had barred an unnamed customer's access to its system, but it has yet to determine whether its software was engaged. 

An NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email, "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations." 

"To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case." 

The Israel-based firm, which was recently sanctioned by the US for reportedly selling intrusion software to repressive regimes and is being sued by Apple and Meta's (Facebook's) WhatsApp for allegedly assisting the hacking of their customers, says it will work cooperatively with any relevant government authority and share what it learns from its investigation. 

NSO's spokesperson stated, “To clarify, the installation of our software by the customer occurs via phone numbers. As stated before, NSO’s technologies are blocked from working on US (+1) numbers. Once the software is sold to the licensed customer, NSO has no way to know who the targets of the customers are, as such, we were not and could not have been aware of this case." 

According to Reuters, the impacted State Department officials were situated in Uganda or were focused on Ugandan issues, therefore their phone numbers had a foreign nation prefix rather than a US prefix. When Apple launched its complaint against the NSO Group on November 23rd, the iPhone maker also stated that it will tell iPhone customers who have been the target of state-sponsored hacking. On the same day, Norbert Mao, a communist, was assassinated. On the same day, Norbert Mao, a lawyer and the President of Uganda's Democratic Party, tweeted that he'd gotten an Apple threat notification. 

According to the Washington Post, NSO's Pegasus software was involved in the attempted or accomplished hacking of 37 phones linked to journalists and rights activists, including two women connected to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The findings contradicted NSO Group's claims that their software was only licenced for battling terrorists and law enforcement, according to the report. 

The NSO Group released its 2021 Transparency and Responsibility Report [PDF] the same month, insisting that its software is only used against groups with few sympathisers, such as terrorists, criminals, and pedophiles. 

Several reports from cybersecurity research and human rights organisations, not to mention UN, EU, and US claims about the firm, have disputed that assertion. The US State Department refused The Register's request for confirmation of the Reuters claim but said the agency takes its obligation to protect its data seriously. They were also told that the Biden-Harris administration is seeking to limit the use of repressive digital tools.

Israeli Company Spyware Targets US Department Phones

 

According to four individuals familiar with the situation, the iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department workers had been compromised by an unidentified man using advanced spyware produced by the Israel-based NSO Group. 

The attacks, which occurred in the previous few months, targeted U.S. officials who were either based in Uganda or focused on issues about the East African country, according to two of the sources. 

The attacks, which were first revealed here, are the most extensive known hacks of US officials using NSO technology. Earlier, a database of numbers with prospective targets that included certain American leaders surfaced in NSO reporting, although it was unclear if incursions were always attempted or successful. 

NSO Group stated in a statement that it had no evidence that its tools had been used, but that it had canceled access for the relevant clients and therefore would investigate. 

"If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO's tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place," said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also "cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have." 

NSO has always stated that it exclusively sells its products to government law enforcement and intelligence agencies to assist them in monitoring security concerns and that it is not intimately associated with surveillance operations. 

A State Department official refused to respond to the intrusions and pointed to the Commerce Department's recent decision to place the Israeli corporation on an entity list, making it more difficult for US businesses to do business with them. 

NSO Group and another spyware firm were "added to the Entity List based on a determination that they developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics, and embassy workers," the Commerce Department said in an announcement last month. 

According to product instructions reviewed by Reuters, the NSO application is capable of not just stealing encrypted messages, images, and other confidential material from compromised phones, but also turning them into recording devices to watch their surroundings. 

The developer of the spyware employed in this hack was not named in Apple's advisory to affected consumers. According to two of the people who were alerted by Apple, the victims included American residents who were easily identified as U.S. government officials because they paired email addresses ending in state.gov with their Apple IDs. 

According to the sources, they and other victims alerted by Apple in multiple countries have been affected by the same graphics processing vulnerability. 

The Israeli embassy in Washington stated in a statement that targeting American officials would be a major violation of its norms. 

"Cyber products like the one mentioned are supervised and licensed to be exported to governments only for purposes related to counter-terrorism and severe crimes," an embassy spokesperson said. "The licensing provisions are very clear and if these claims are true, it is a severe violation of these provisions."

Alert Android Users: These 23 Apps Found Spying via Mobile Camera

 

A new malware, PhoneSpy, that eavesdrops on Android users, was detected in 23 applications recently,  As of present, none of these applications are available on Google Play Store. 

The malware that has primarily been active in the United Kingdom and Korea, is capable of stealing critical data such as images, call logs, contacts, and messages, as well as obtaining the full list of installed apps, recording audio and video in real-time using the phone's cameras and microphone. It can also extract device information such as the IMEI number, device name, and brand, and even grant remote access to the device. 

Zimperium stated in a statement, “The application is capable of uninstalling any user-installed applications, including mobile security apps. The device’s precise location is available in real-time to the malicious actors, all without the victim knowing. The spyware also enables the threat actor to use phishing pages for harvesting credentials of Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Kakao Talk." 

“PhoneSpy hides in plain sight, disguising itself as a regular application with purposes ranging from learning Yoga to watching TV and videos, or browsing photos," the mobile security agency Zimperium added. 

Since the spyware or any of its shadow applications were listed on the Play Store, experts believe the attackers may have used online traffic redirection or social engineering to spread the malware. The latter is used by cyber thieves to trick device owners into performing voluntary actions. 

If users carefully examine their online traffic habits, they may be able to discover the malware invasion. The PhoneSpy software begins by sending requests for on-device authorization. Once the user has provided these details, attackers can manage and hide the app from the main menu. 

According to Zimperium, Android users should avoid installing apps from third-party app stores. It’s recommended that users only download applications from the Google Play Store. Also, users are suggested to avoid clicking on questionable links or downloading any applications sent by text message or email.

Huawei's App Gallery Hosted Malicious Apps Installed by 9M+ Android Users

 

Around 9.3 million Android devices have been infected with a new type of malware that masquerades as dozens of arcade, shooter, and strategy games on Huawei's AppGallery marketplace in order to gather device information and victims' phone numbers. 

Researchers from Doctor Web discovered the mobile campaign and categorized the trojan as "Android.Cynos.7.origin," simply because it is a modified variant of the Cynos malware. Some of the 190 rogue games discovered were made for Russian-speaking players, while others were made for Chinese or worldwide audiences. 

The applications requested the victims for permission to make and control phone calls once they were installed and then utilized to access and capture their phone numbers as well as other device data including geolocation, mobile network characteristics, and system metadata. 

All of these harmful games are primarily geared at children, who are easy targets for having all of their permissions activated. Huawei has currently uninstalled all of the vulnerable games from its AppGallery app store. If users have a Huawei smartphone and aren't sure if they're infected or not, some of the malicious apps are mentioned below: 
  • “[Команда должна убить боеголовку]” with more than 8000 installs. 
  • “Cat game room” with more than 427000 installs. 
  • “Drive school simulator” with more than 142000 installs. 
  • “[快点躲起来]” with more than 2000000 installs 
Furthermore, the Doctor Web malware analysts have previously warned Huawei about these harmful apps. Doctor Web researchers stated, "At first glance, a mobile phone number leak may seem like an insignificant problem. Yet in reality, it can seriously harm users, especially given the fact that children are the games' main target audience." 

"Even if the mobile phone number is registered to an adult, downloading a child's game may highly likely indicate that the child is the one who actually uses the mobile phone. It is very doubtful that parents would want the above data about the phone to be transferred not only to unknown foreign servers, but to anyone else in general."

Apple Sues NSO Group for Using Pegasus Spyware to Spy on iPhone Users

 

In a U.S. federal court, Apple has sued NSO Group and its parent firm Q Cyber Technologies for illegally targeting users with its Pegasus spying tool, marking yet another setback for the Israeli spyware vendor. NSO Group is described as "notorious hackers — amoral 21st-century mercenaries who have constructed highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance equipment that promotes routine and egregious exploitation" by the Cupertino-based tech giant. 

“State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That needs to change,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “Apple devices are the most secure consumer hardware on the market — but private companies developing state-sponsored spyware have become even more dangerous."

Pegasus is designed as an invasive "military-grade" spyware capable of exfiltrating sensitive personal and geolocation information and stealthily activating the phones' cameras and microphones. It is typically installed by leveraging "zero-click" exploits that infect targeted devices without any user interaction. 

The FORCEDENTRY exploit in iMessage was used to evade iOS security measures and target nine Bahraini activists, according to Apple's lawsuit. The attackers used over 100 false Apple IDs to send harmful data to the victims' devices, allowing NSO Group or its clients to deploy and install Pegasus spyware without their knowledge, according to the firm. In September, Apple patched the zero-day vulnerability. 

"The abusive data was sent to the target phone through Apple's iMessage service, disabling logging on a targeted Apple device so that Defendants could surreptitiously deliver the Pegasus payload via a larger file," Apple detailed in its filing. "That larger file would be temporarily stored in an encrypted form unreadable to Apple on one of Apple's iCloud servers in the United States or abroad for delivery to the target." 

The lawsuit also mirrors a similar action taken by Meta (previously Facebook) in October 2019, when it sued the firm for installing Pegasus on 1,400 mobile devices belonging to diplomats, journalists, and human rights activists by exploiting a weakness in its WhatsApp messaging software. 

Apple praises organizations such as Citizen Lab and Amnesty Tech for their pioneering efforts in identifying cyber-surveillance abuses and assisting victims. To support efforts like these, Apple announced that it will donate $10 million to organizations conducting cyber surveillance research and advocacy, plus any damages from the lawsuit.

Israeli Spyware Firm Attributed to Watering Hole Attacks on Middle East & UK websites

 

ESET researchers have discovered a new cyber campaign that used Candiru's malware, which is located in Tel Aviv, to target websites and services in various Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

Candiru, like NSO Group, distributes malware to government agencies, and the US placed it on trade backlists earlier this month, along with a Russian corporation and a Singapore-based company. The latest offensive utilizes 'watering hole' attacks, in which attackers install malicious code on legitimate websites that the targets are likely to visit. When a user visits the page, the malware infects their computer, allowing attackers to eavesdrop on them or harm them in other ways. 

According to ESET, the websites targeted were Middle East Eye, a London-based news organisation, and Almasirah, a Yemeni news agency linked to the Houthi rebels battling the Saudis. Websites belonging to the Iranian foreign ministry, Yemen's finance and interior ministries, and Syria's energy ministry, as well as internet service providers in Syria and Yemen, were also targeted by the attackers. 

Sites run by the Italian corporation Piaggio Aerospace, the pro-Iranian militant group Hezbollah, and The Saudi Reality, a Saudi Arabian dissident media website, were among the other targets. The cybercriminals also established a website that appeared like a medical trade show in Germany, as per researchers. ESET estimates that certain visitors to these sites were targeted via a browser exploit, although they were unable to get the vulnerability or the payload. 

ESET researcher Matthieu Faou who uncovered the cyber campaign, stated, "On July 11, 2020, our system notified us that the website of the Iranian embassy in Abu Dhabi had been tainted with malicious JavaScript code. Our curiosity was aroused by the high-profile nature of the targeted website, and in the following weeks we noticed that other websites with connections to the Middle East were also targeted." 

The researchers have detected no activity from this operation since the end of July 2021, when Google, Citizen Lab, and Microsoft released blog articles outlining Candiru's actions - and about the same time that NSO Group became global news.

"The operators appear to be taking a pause, probably in order to retool and make their campaign stealthier," Faou continued. 

Candiru, which has gone by numerous names since its debut in 2014, has a limited amount of information available. Saito Tech Ltd. is the company's current name, and it has several investors in common with NSO Group.  

In July, Citizen Lab and Microsoft researchers stated that more than 100 journalists, politicians, human rights activists, and dissidents in several countries were targeted in a spyware operation that deployed sophisticated 'cyberweapons' created by Candiru, 

Candiru, according to Citizen Lab, offers spyware to governments and authoritarian leaders only, who then use the tools to hijack PCs, Macs, phones, and cloud accounts. Candiru's clients can attempt to breach an infinite number of devices for €16 million (£13.4 million), but they can only actively track 10 devices at a time, according to the Citizen Lab. Buyers may pay an extra €1.5 million (about £1.25 million) to have Candiru monitor an additional 15 victims.

Threat Actors Abuse Discord to Push Malware

 

Cybercriminals are using Discord, a popular VoIP, instant chat, and digital distribution network used by 140 million users in 2021, to disseminate malware files. 

Discord servers can be organised into topic-based channels where users can share text or audio files. Within the text-based channels, they can attach any form of material, including photos, document files, and executables. These files are maintained on the Content Delivery Network (CDN) servers of Discord. 

However, many files transferred over the Discord network are malicious, indicating that actors are abusing the site's self-hosted CDN by forming channels with the sole aim of distributing these harmful files. Although Discord was designed for the gaming community initially, many corporations are now adopting it for office communication. Many businesses may be permitting this unwanted traffic onto their network as a result of these malicious code files placed on Discord's CDN. 

Exploiting Discord channels 

RiskIQ researchers looked deeper into how Discord CDN utilises a Discord domain through links that use [hxxps://cdn.discordapp[.]com/attachments/{ChannelID}/{AttachmentID}/{filename}] as the format to discover malware. 

According to the researchers, they spotted links and queried Discord channel IDs used in these links, enabling them to identify domains comprising web pages that connect to a Discord CDN link with a certain channel ID. 

“For example, the RiskIQ platform can query the channel IDs associated with zoom[-]download[.]ml,” researchers explained. “This domain attempts to spoof users into downloading a Zoom plug-in for Microsoft Outlook and instead delivers the Dcstl password stealer hosted on Discord’s CDN.” 

In another case, RiskIQ determined that the channel ID for a URL containing a Raccoon password stealer file returned a domain for Taplink, a  site that offers users micro landing pages to send them to their Instagram and other social media accounts. 

According to the researchers, the approach allowed them to discover the day and time Discord channels were launched, connecting those generated within a few days after the first observation of a file in VirusTotal to channels with the sole purpose of disseminating malware. They eventually discovered and cataloged 27 distinct malware types hosted on Discord's CDN. 

About the malware 

Discord CDN URLs containing.exe, DLL, and different document and compressed files were detected by RiskIQ. It was discovered that more than 100 of the hashes on VirusTotal were transmitting malicious information. 

RiskIQ discovered more than eighty files from seventeen malware families, however, Trojans were the most frequent malware found on Discord's CDN. For most malware found on Discord's CDN, RiskIQ noticed a single file per channel ID. 

According to Microsoft's identification of the files and further research, there are a total of 27 distinct malware families, divided into four types: 
• Backdoors, e.g., AsyncRat 
• Password Stealers, e.g., DarkStealer 
• Spyware, e.g., Raccoon Stealer 
• Trojans, e.g., AgentTesla 

The exploitation of Discord's infrastructure throws light on the rising problem of CDN abuse by malicious attackers across the web. Using internet-wide visibility to identify malware in CDN infrastructure is significant to limiting the damage these valuable malware delivery techniques might have on the firm.

New Trojan Attack Campaign Prompted by Pegasus Spyware

 

An unexplored Sarwent Trojan is being distributed by a threat organization via a bogus Amnesty International website that claims to protect customers from the Pegasus smartphone spyware. 

The operation is intended towards those who feel they have been attacked by the NSO Group's Pegasus spyware and thus are tied to nation-state action, according to Cisco Talos security analysts, but Talos is yet to identify the exact threat actor. 

Pegasus is a piece of spyware created by the Israeli cyber arms firm NSO Group which can be loaded secretly on smartphones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android. According to the disclosures from Project Pegasus 2021, the existing Pegasus program can attack all recent iOS versions up to iOS 14.6. Pegasus could intercept text messages, track calls, gather passwords, monitor position, access the target device's camera and microphone, and collect data from apps as of 2016. 

Despite the claims regarding authorized utilization, Pegasus - a contentious surveillance software technology has been allegedly used by tyrannical governments in operations targeting journalists, human rights activists, as well as other opponents of the state. 

Soon after the release of a comprehensive Amnesty International report on Pegasus in July of this year, as well as Apple's dissemination of updates for the ForcedEntry zero-day exploit, several users started exploring ways of protecting themselves from the spyware that was exploited by adversaries. 

On a bogus website that I identical to Amnesty International, the malicious actors claim to be delivering "Amnesty Anti Pegasus," an anti-virus tool that can allegedly guard against NSO Group's malware. 

Alternatively, customers are given the Sarwent remote access tool (RAT), which allows attackers to easily upload and run payloads on compromised PCs, as well as extract relevant and sensitive data. 

Despite its low intensity, the attack has struck individuals in the United States, the United Kingdom, Colombia, the Czech Republic, India, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine, as per Cisco Talos. 

“Given the current information, we are unsure of the actor’s objectives. The use of Amnesty International’s name, a group whose work frequently puts it at odds with governments around the world, as well as the Pegasus brand, malware that has been used to target dissidents and journalists on behalf of governments, raises questions about who is being targeted and why,” according to Cisco Talo. 

The campaign's adversary seems to be a Russian speaker who has been using Sarwent to target patients from different walks of life all across the globe since at least January 2021. The malicious actors have been using the Trojan and one with a comparable backdoor since 2014, according to security experts.

New Zero-Click iMessage Exploit Used to Deploy Pegasus Spyware

 

Citizen Lab's digital threat researchers have discovered a new zero-click iMessage exploit that was exploited to install NSO Group's Pegasus spyware on Bahraini activists' smartphones. In total, nine Bahraini activists (including members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Waad, and Al Wefaq) had their iPhones hacked in a campaign conducted by a Pegasus operator linked to the Bahraini government with high confidence, according to Citizen Lab. 

After being compromised using two zero-click iMessage exploits (that do not involve user participation), the spyware was installed on their devices: the 2020 KISMET exploit and a new never-before-seen exploit named FORCEDENTRY. 

In February 2021, Citizen Lab first noticed NSO Group deploying the new zero-click FORCEDENTRY iMessage attack, which bypasses Apple's BlastDoor protection. BlastDoor, a structural change in iOS 14 aimed to stop message-based, zero-click attacks like this, had just been released the month before. BlastDoor was designed to prevent Pegasus attacks by operating as a "tightly sandboxed" service responsible for "almost all" of the parsing of untrusted data in iMessages, according to Samuel Groß of Google Project Zero.

“We saw the FORCEDENTRY exploit successfully deployed against iOS versions 14.4 and 14.6 as a zero-day,” Citizen Lab said. “With the consent of targets, we shared these crash logs and some additional phone logs relating to KISMET and FORCEDENTRY with Apple, Inc., which confirmed they were investigating.” 

Attacks like the ones revealed by Citizen Lab, according to Ivan Krstić, head of Apple Security Engineering and Architecture, are highly targeted and hence nothing to worry about for most people, at least. Such attacks are "very complex, cost millions of dollars to design, often have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals," according to Krstić. 

In addition to Apple's iMessage, NSO Group has a history of using other messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, to spread malware. Nonetheless, Citizen Lab believes that disabling iMessage and FaceTime in this circumstance, with these specific threats, may have blocked the threat actors. Researchers emphasized that disabling iMessage and FaceTime would not provide total security from zero-click assaults or adware.

NSO Group stated in a statement to Bloomberg that it hasn't read the report yet, but it has concerns about Citizen Lab's techniques and motivations. According to the company's statement, "If NSO gets reliable evidence relating to the system's misuse, the company will thoroughly investigate the claims and act accordingly."

Pegasus iPhone Hacks Used as Bait in Extortion Scam

 

A new extortion fraud attempts to profit from the recent Pegasus iOS spyware attacks to threaten victims to pay a blackmail demand. 

Last month, Amnesty International and the non-profit project Forbidden Stories disclosed that the Pegasus spyware was installed on completely updated iPhones via a zero-day zero-click iMessage vulnerability. 

A zero-click vulnerability is a flaw that can be exploited on a device without requiring the user's interaction. For instance, a zero-click hack would be a vulnerability that could be exploited just by visiting a website or getting a message. 

Governments are believed to have employed this spyware to eavesdrop on politicians, journalists, human rights activists, and corporate leaders worldwide. This week, a threat actor began contacting users, informing them that their iPhone had been compromised with a zero-click vulnerability that allowed the Pegasus spyware software to be installed. 

According to the fraudster, Pegasus has tracked the recipient's actions and captured recordings of them at "the most private moments" of their lives. According to the email, the threat actor will disseminate the recordings to the recipient's family, friends, and business partners if a 0.035 bitcoin (roughly $1,600) payment is not made. 

The full text of the email stated: 
"Hi there Hello, 
I'm going to share important information with you. 
Have you heard about Pegasus? 
You have become a collateral victim. It's very important that you read the information below. 
Your phone was penetrated with a “zero-click” attack, meaning you didn't even need to click on a malicious link for your phone to be infected. 
Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices and enables operators of the tool to extract messages, photos, and emails, record calls and secretly activate cameras or microphones and read the contents of encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram, and Signal.
Basically, it can spy on every aspect of your life. That's precisely what it did. I am a blackhat hacker and do this for a living. Unfortunately, you are my victim. Please read on. 
As you understand, I have used the malware capabilities to spy on you and harvested datas of your private life.
My only goal is to make money and I have perfect leverage for this. As you can imagine in your worst dream, I have videos of you exposed during the most private moments of your life when you are not expecting it. 
I personally have no interest in them, but there are public websites that have perverts loving that content. 
As I said, I only do this to make money and not trying to destroy your life. But if necessary, I will publish the videos. If this is not enough for you, I will make sure your contacts, friends, business associates and everybody you know sees those videos as well. 
Here is the deal. I will delete the files after I receive 0.035 Bitcoin (about 1600 US Dollars). You need to send that amount here bc1q7g8ny0p95pkuag0gay2lyl3m0emk65v5ug9uy7 
I will also clear your device from malware, and you keep living your life. Otherwise, shit will happen. The fee is non-negotiable, to be transferred within 2 business days. 
Obviously do not try to ask for any help from anybody unless you want your privacy to be violated. 
I will monitor your every move until I get paid. If you keep your end of the agreement, you won't hear from me ever again. 
Take care." 

Apparently, the bitcoin address indicated in the sample email seen by BleepingComputer has not received any payments. However, other bitcoin addresses might be utilized in this fraud. One may believe that no one would fall for this swindle, yet similar methods in the past have fetched over $50,000 in a week.

Israeli Firm Assisted Governments Target Journalists & Activists with Zero Days and Spyware

 

Microsoft as part of its Patch on Tuesday fixed two of the zero-day Windows flaws weaponized by Candiru, an Israeli firm in a series of "precision attacks" to hack more than 100 journalists, academics, activists, and political dissidents globally. 

According to a report published by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, the spyware vendor has also been formally identified as the commercial surveillance firm that Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) revealed was exploiting multiple zero-day vulnerabilities in Chrome browser to attack victims in Armenia. 

"Candiru's apparent widespread presence, and the use of its surveillance technology against global civil society, is a potent reminder that the mercenary spyware industry contains many players and is prone to widespread abuse," Citizen Lab researchers stated.

"This case demonstrates, yet again, that in the absence of any international safeguards or strong government export controls, spyware vendors will sell to government clients who will routinely abuse their services." 

Founded in 2014, the private-sector offensive actor (PSOA) — codenamed "Sourgum" by Microsoft — is stated to be the creator of DevilsTongue, an espionage toolkit able to infect and track a wide range of devices across multiple platforms, including iPhones, Androids, Macs, PCs, and cloud accounts. 

After gaining a hard drive from "a politically active victim in Western Europe," Citizen Lab stated it was able to restore a copy of Candiru's Windows spyware, which was then reverse engineered to identify two never-before-seen Windows zero-day exploits for vulnerabilities tracked as CVE-2021-31979 and CVE-2021-33771 that were leveraged to install malware on victim boxes. 

The infection chain used a combination of browser and Windows vulnerabilities, with the latter being transmitted through single-use URLs emailed on WhatsApp to targets. On July 13, Microsoft patched both privilege escalation issues, which allow an attacker to bypass browser sandboxes and obtain kernel code execution. 

The attacks resulted in the deployment of DevilsTongue, a modular C/C++-based backdoor capable of exfiltrating files, exporting messages saved in the encrypted messaging app Signal, and stealing cookies and passwords from Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera browsers. Microsoft discovered that the digital weapon could gather data, read the victim's messages, get photos, and even send messages on their behalf using stolen cookies from logged-in email and social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo, Mail.ru, Odnoklassniki, and Vkontakte.

Furthermore, the Citizen Lab study linked two Google Chrome vulnerabilities — CVE-2021-21166 and CVE-2021-30551 — to the Tel Aviv firm, citing similarities in the websites used to disseminate the exploits. 

A total of 764 domains related to Candiru's spyware infrastructure were discovered, many of which purported to be advocacy groups such as Amnesty International, the Black Lives Matter movement, media businesses, and other civil-society-oriented enterprises. 

Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, and Indonesia were among the countries that ran systems under their authority. 

According to a Microsoft report, an Israeli hacking-for-hire firm has assisted government clients in spying on more than 100 people throughout the world, including politicians, dissidents, human rights activists, diplomatic staff, and journalists.

Among other well-known news outlets, the Guardian and the Washington Post released information of what they termed "global surveillance operations" using Pegasus. The surveillance is said to be aimed at journalists and according to the claims, Pegasus malware is being used to spy on people by over ten nations. 

SOURGUM's malware has so far targeted over 100 victims in Palestine, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Spain (Catalonia), United Kingdom, Turkey, Armenia, and Singapore. 

These attacks mostly targeted consumer accounts, implying that Sourgum's users were pursuing part of the attack. TAG researchers Maddie Stone and Clement Lecigne noticed a rise in attackers utilizing more zero-day vulnerabilities in their cyber offensives in the early 2010s, which they attribute to more commercial vendors offering access to zero-day flaws. 

Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) stated in a technical rundown, "Private-sector offensive actors are private companies that manufacture and sell cyberweapons in hacking-as-a-service packages, often to government agencies around the world, to hack into their targets' computers, phones, network infrastructure, and other devices.” 

"With these hacking packages, usually the government agencies choose the targets and run the actual operations themselves. The tools, tactics, and procedures used by these companies only add to the complexity, scale, and sophistication of attacks," MSTIC added.