71 malicious Android apps

Lookout researchers have uncovered a mobile surveillance campaign that has used more than 71 malicious Android apps to spy on Syrian users since the start of January 2018 by the Syrian nation-state hacking group called as Syrian Electronic Army (SEA).

There are 64 samples belongs to commercial surveillanceware “SpyNote” families and others belongs to SandroRat, AndoServer, and SLRat families disguise itself to provide relevant information about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Surveillanceware campaigns

The trend of commercial surveillanceware families has been observed recently targets Libya users via SpyMax .SpyMax and SpyNote were developed by the same creators.

These are Remote Access Trojans (RATs) for Android devices that may pack a lot of features that enable their authors with the ability to carry out a broad range of unsafe operations on the infected device.

Below apps were trojanized apps used in the campaign and not available on the official Google Play Store, suggesting they were likely distributed through actor-operated watering holes or third-party app stores.

71 malicious Android apps
Application icon from this surveillance campaign

Applications from this surveillance campaign impersonate a variety of applications, with titles such as “Covid19”, “Telegram Covid_19”, “Android Telegram”, and “Threema Arabic” (an end-to-end encrypted messaging application), as well as a phone signal booster and OfficeSuite application.  Package names also allude to Syrian targeting, with names such as “com.syria.tel”, “syria.tel.ctu”, and “com.syriatel.ctu”.

Syrian state-sponsored hacking group- (SEA)hosts C2 server Infrastructure

Researchers found 71 malicious Android applications connected to the same command-and-control (C2) server belongs to Tarassul Internet Service Provider, an ISP owned by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE) .STE has a history of hosting infrastructure for the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a Syrian state-sponsored hacking group.

The Syrian Electronic Army has been active recently, with one of their Twitter accounts claiming responsibility this month for DDoS attacks against Belgian media, as well as defacing PayPal and eBay websites as recently as April 7, 2020.

71 malicious Android apps
Syrian Electronic Army’s multiple Twitter accounts most recent claims by @Official_SEA7,

Fake digital thermometer Application

One of the apps, “com.finger.body.temperature.ap” is a trojanized version of fake digital thermometer that trick users to install the malware in their device.

Trojanized version of fake digital thermometer

AndoServer samples receive commands, and are capable of:

  • Taking a screenshot
  • Getting battery levels and if the device is plugged in
  • Reporting location (latitude and longitude)
  • Getting a list of installed applications
  • Launching an application specified by the malicious actor
  • Checking the number of cameras on a device
  • Creating a specific pop-up message (toast)
  • Recording audio
  • Creating a file on external storage
  • Exfiltrating call logs
  • Listing files contained in a specified directory
  • Calling a phone number
  • Exfiltrating SMS messages
  • Sending SMS to a phone number
  • Exfiltrating the contact list
  • Playing a ringtone and then sleeping
  • Choosing a specific camera to access

Syrian authorities are known to heavily censor their country’s internet, with Syria ranking 174th on Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Given Syria’s history of censorship and past mobile and desktop surveillance campaigns, it should come as no surprise that another campaign is active.

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