According to security researchers, spies are hijacking mobile phone devices of political rivals and dissidents across the globe, and doing so gives them access to way more confidential data than what most users store on their computers.
Lookout, a mobile security company, said that 22 efforts to hack smartphones in the first five months of 2018 seemed to be backed by the government. Lookout added that most of the hacks targeted political adversaries in developing countries. The cyber researchers of the company identified two such attempts in the year 2015.
Why is it happening?
According to Claudio Guarnieri, a security researcher with Amnesty International, this increase in mobile hacking is happening due to the proliferation of not only inexpensive smartphones but also of companies selling hacking tools along with keyloggers to access phones. Most of the hacking attempts are targeted at mobile phones, whereas three years ago the majority of hacks were targeted on personal computers.
The vice president of security research at Lookout, Mike Murray said that it is one thing to hack somebody’s personal computer, but it is entirely different to compromise a listening device which people carry around with them throughout a day.
The surveillance of mobile phone devices sponsored by the government comes as more hackers of all political opinions get access to mobile phones. Security researchers say that mobile phones if turned against their users can become powerful tools for espionage. Hackers can monitor contacts, messages, location history, financial activities, and many more things.
How does it happen?
Researchers say malware often makes use of apparent bugs on smartphones which have not been fixed and attackers also attach malicious software to mobile application stores. Antivirus merchants such as McAfee view mobile-device security as an essential market for future sales. McAfee offers protection for smartphones at mcafee.com/activate.
According to McAfee’s chief scientist, Raj Samani, the tools, and skill required to make malware for smartphones are becoming more common and less costly. Because of this, approximately 11 percent of phone devices around the world have had some kind of infection in the final quarter of 2017. Whereas these figures were 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015.
People often get deceived into downloading Trojan horse malware which disguises as a different software such as a security application or a video conferencing app. This malware is usually created by contractors or freelancers who then sell it to government clients.
In November 2017, McAfee found a mobile device campaign started by a hacking operation USA named Lazarus Group and security specialists say that it was backed by North Korea. McAfee considers that the campaign, which is still ongoing, is the first effort by the group to target mobile devices.
Repressive regimes more commonly mount the campaigns against dissenters in their own nation. Encrypted communications applications for example Signal and Facebook’s WhatsApp have given activists like these a degree of protection in recent years. However, that defense is being undermined by malicious software that gives hackers a method to access communications on hacked devices.