7/25/2019
10:15 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb

Sanctioned Russian Spies Can Own Your Android Device

It's professional-grade naughtiness, people.



Mobile security company Lookouthas found a remote access trojan that it is calling Monokle. It's not just an incompetent or limited one, no sir. Just one of its capabilities include remounting the system partition to install an attacker-specified certificate which can make the attacker rooted.

Lookout indicates these tools are part of a targeted set of campaigns and are developed by the St. Petersburg, Russia-based company, Special Technology Centre, Ltd. (STC, Ltd. or STC).

These are known bad guys. Executive Order 13964 issued by then President Barack Obama, imposed sanctions in late 2016 on STC as one of three companies that provided material support to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) for alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

Lookout summarizes what it thinks Monocle can do by saying that, "Monokle, developed by STC, is an advanced mobile surveillanceware that compromises a user's privacy by stealing personal data stored on an infected device and exfiltrating this information to command and control infrastructure. While most of its functionality is typical of a mobile surveillanceware, Monokle is unique in that it uses existing methods in novel ways in order to be extremely effective at data exfiltration, even without root access. Among other things, Monokle makes extensive use of the Android accessibility services to exfiltrate data from third party applications and uses predictive-text dictionaries to get a sense of the topics of interest to a target. Monokle will also attempt to record the screen during a screen unlock event so as to compromise a user's PIN, pattern or password."

Serious work going on there. Professional-grade.

Lookout says that it has observed samples in the wild of this malware since 2015. Activity appears to remain small but consistent, peaking during the first half of 2018. They go even further, finding that it has likely been used to target individuals in the Caucasus regions and individuals interested in the Ahrar al-Sham militant group in Syria.

Specific targeting has been a pattern of Monocle deployment, as Lookout notes.

Monokle seems to make extensive use of Android accessibility services to exfiltrate data from third party applications by reading text displayed on a device's screen at any point in time.

Worryingly, Lookout says there is evidence that an iOS version of Monokle is in development. Evidently some code that they obtained could be repurposed to such development if it were needed. Lookout has no evidence of active iOS infections, however.

This puppy is weapons-grade in the extent of its functionality and the sheer depth of the device takeover that it imposes.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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