FBI spooks use MALWARE to spy on suspects' Android mobes - report

Spear-phishing: It's not just for the bad guys


The Federal Bureau of Investigation is using mobile malware to infect, and control, suspects' Android handsets, allowing it to record nearby sounds and copy data without physical access to the devices.

That's according to "former officers" interviewed by the Wall Street Journal ahead of privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian's presentation at hacker-conflab Black Hat later today.

The FBI's Remote Operations Unit has been listening in to desktop computers for years, explains the paper, but mobile phones are a relatively new target.

It would never work with tech-savvy suspects, though: suspects still need to infect themselves with the malware by clicking a dodgy link or opening the wrong attachment. This is why computer hackers are never targeted this way – they might notice and publicise the technique, said the "former officers", who noted that in other cases it had proved hugely valuable.

Such actions do require judicial oversight, but if one is recording activities rather than communications, the level of authorisation needed is much reduced. A US judge is apparently more likely to approve reaching out electronically into a suspect's hardware than a traditional wiretap, as the latter is considered a greater intrusion into their privacy.

Gaining control of that hardware still requires a hole to crawl through; ideally a zero-day exploit of which the platform manufacturer is unaware.

The WSJ cites UK-based lawful spook spyware supplier Gamma International as selling such exploits to the Feds. The company was recently in the news after allegations that it was also supplying dodgy governments with kit - allegedly including malware disguised as the Firefox browser.

Given the convergence of mobile and desktop, it's no surprise to see desktop techniques being applied to mobile phone platforms by both hackers and law enforcement agencies.

The usual techniques of not opening unknown attachments or unsigned downloads should protect you against the FBI, just as it would against any spear-phishing attempt. But then again, if you know that, they probably wouldn't try using it against you. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022