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Revealed: How governments can take control of smartphones

Published time: June 25, 2014 01:32
Edited time: June 27, 2014 14:14
Photo by  Brian Klug /

Photo by Brian Klug /

‘Legal malware’ produced by the Italian firm Hacking Team can take total control of your mobile phone. That’s according to Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab and University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab(which also obtained a user manual).

Operating since 2001, the Milan-based Hacking Team employs over 50 people and offers clients the ability to “take control of your targets and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility," while “keeping an eye on all your targets and manage them remotely, all from a single screen.”

It’s the first time Remote Control Systems (RCS) malware has been positively linked with mobile phones and it opens up a new privacy threat potential to mobile phone users.

“Our latest research has identified mobile modules that work on all well-known mobile platforms, including as Android and iOS,” wrote Kaspersky researcher Sergey Golovanov.

“These modules are installed using infectors – special executables for either Windows or Macs that run on already infected computers. They translate into complete control over the environment in and near a victim’s computer. Secretly activating the microphone and taking regular camera shots provides constant surveillance of the target – which is much more powerful than traditional cloak and dagger operations.”

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Police can install the spy malware directly into the phone if there is direct access to the device, or if the owner of the phone connects to an already infected computer, according to Wired.

Various softwares can also lure users to download targeted fake apps.

Once inside an iPhone, for instance, it can access and activate all of the following: control of Wi-Fi, GPS, GPRS, recording voice, e-mail, SMS, MMS, listing files, cookies, visited URLs, cached web pages, address book, call history, notes, calendar, clipboard, list of apps, SIM change, live microphone, camera shots, support chats, WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber.

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While the malware can be spotted by some of the more sophisticated anti-virus software, it takes special measures to avoid detection – such as “scouting” a victim before installation, “obfuscating” its presence, and removing traces of its activity.

Hacking Team has maintained that its products are used for lawful governmental interceptions, adding that it does not sell items to countries blacklisted by NATO or repressive regimes.

Wired reported that there have been cases where the spying apps were used in illegal ways in Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.

Citizen Lab discovered spying malware hiding in a legitimate news app for Qatif Today, an Arabic-language news and information service that reports on events in Saudi Arabia's eastern Qatif region. It also argued that circumstantial evidence pointed to Saudi Arabia’s government using the spying malware against Shia protesters in the area.

“This type of exceptionally invasive toolkit, once a costly boutique capability deployed by intelligence communities and militaries, is now available to all but a handful of governments. An unstated assumption is that customers that can pay for these tools will use them correctly, and primarily for strictly overseen, legal purposes. As our research has shown, however, by dramatically lowering the entry cost on invasive and hard-to-trace monitoring, the equipment lowers the cost of targeting political threats for those with access to Hacking Team and Gamma Group toolkits,” Citizen Lab said in its report.

Map showing the countries of the current HackingTeam servers’ locations (Image from

Hacking Team controls the spying malware remotely via command-and-control servers. Kaspersky has discovered more than 350 such servers in more than 40 countries. A total of 64 servers were found in the US – more than in any other country. Kazakhstan came in second, with a total of 49 servers found. Thirty-five were found in Ecuador and 32 in the UK.

Comments (55)


mergon 14.07.2014 09:32

Phones with front and rear cameras are an easy target for the snoops to up date your picture ,you can make or buy a faradays cage purse for your phone to stop incoming and outgoing signals this means you can get from A to B with out them using your GPS to find you ,it also stops the police from using augmented reality to track you on a screen , of course when you go to use the phone they will lock on but it slows them down !


mergon 14.07.2014 09:25

Security is just a matter of time ,Have you noticed that newer computers require Apps ? all mobile phones require Apps , all you can do is to slow things down a bit ,use a faradays purse for your phone when going to and from , you can use a really old pre internet phone ,
tape up the camera on your computer and the mic holes ,go into settings and deny everything except for the sites you use ,delete all history,tick all the boxes and clear history from the begining of time before and after changing sites, use a browser that does not record your address ,they will have you anyway it just makes them work harder !


mrv 28.06.2014 11:06

When they pass a tax law n the US congress, all the corporate lawyer get together to find loo-holds and ways to get around the law. The analogy can be made we the US security apparatus (NSA, et al), so as soon as a new spy/snooping ideas come out, friendly and unfriendly nations around the world, terrorist organizations, organized crime get together to find way to around them. The rest of us, who have not an idea of the total surveillance programs in the US, will be ease targets. Might not be a good analogy but I let you be the judge.

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