Russian-linked spyware 'among most sophisticated ever discovered'

Monokle spyware boasts extensive list of potential hacking tools

Spyware Skull

A highly sophisticated strain of Android spyware has been discovered which is thought to be linked to a Russian defence contractor previously implicated in the interference of the US 2016 presidential elections.

Researchers from Lookout say the dangerous spyware, known as Monokle, can perform a range of hacking tasks, such as exfiltrating sensitive data, issuing remote access commands on devices, and launching man-in-the-middle attacks (MITM).

Advertisement - Article continues below

The spyware, which has been traced back to the Special Technology Centre (STC), a St. Petersberg-based company with a previously unknown history of developing apps, has been actively infecting users since 2016. Activity has been low in volume but consistent throughout the years, peaking in 2018.

Monokle has so far operated as a trojan, embedding itself into popular apps such as Evernote, Wickr and Skype and then launching a varied list of attack types from a user's machine. It tricks users into downloading it by disguising itself as popular legitimate apps such as encrypted messaging services, productivity boosters and Android update services. It spoofs these apps logos and offers seemingly legitimate functionality.

It's believed that Monokle operates entirely on the Android operating system. While there is evidence of an iOS version in development, researchers said there have been no observed active infections on Apple's operating system to date.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

If a user does find themselves infected with this intensely effective and capable strain of spyware, they will be prey to the array of malicious features. The spyware is said to be invisible to an infected device's Process Manager and, because of its remote access trojan (RAT) functionality, it's likely it would record most of your calls and background audio, and keep logs of texts, calls, passwords and pin codes.

Data exfiltration is also a big part of Monokle's functionality. It's said to have the ability to retrieve calendar information, including the date and time of an event, and the description of it. It can also collect account information from some of the most popular social media apps around, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Skype.

Advertisement - Article continues below

In addition, Monokle can retrieve contacts, emails, call and browsing histories, accounts with corresponding passwords and track device location. It can also install attacker-specified certificates to the Android trusted-certificate store, which would allow it to conduct man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks against TLS traffic.

Researchers were unable to access any of Monokle's exfiltrated data and can only speculate on the potential targets of the spyware, but possibilities listed include those interested in Isalm, interested in or associated with the Ahrar al-Sham militant group in Syria and those living in or associated the Caucasus regions of Eastern Europe - among others.

These guesses were made through inferred information such as the namings of Monokle-infected apps such as 'Ahrar Maps' and 'caucus'. Most apps were written in English but some were also in Russian and Arabic.

The researchers "found strong links that tie STC's Android software development operations to Monokle's indicators of compromise (IOCs) [and] shared command and control infrastructure used by both legitimate and malicious Android applications produced by STC," the report read.

Advertisement - Article continues below

"The Defender application and related software has been referred to by an STC developer as developed 'for a government customer,'" it added.

The report's findings have forced experts to once again raise awareness of the necessity of only downloading verified apps from legitimate sources.

"The Monokle malware mainly infects devices through corrupted versions of legitimate apps," said Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate, Comparitech.com. "For this reason, it's important for all Android users to get apps from a trusted source."

"Avoid downloading apps from third-party app stores and APK downloads," he added. "App developers don't publish their apps on these sites, so they're put there by unknown third parties. The apps from unreputable sources often look identical, but in fact, contain malware."

Featured Resources

Preparing for long-term remote working after COVID-19

Learn how to safely and securely enable your remote workforce

Download now

Cloud vs on-premise storage: What’s right for you?

Key considerations driving document storage decisions for businesses

Download now

Staying ahead of the game in the world of data

Create successful marketing campaigns by understanding your customers better

Download now

Transforming productivity

Solutions that facilitate work at full speed

Download now
Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/mobile/google-android/356373/over-2-dozen-additional-android-apps-found-stealing-user-data
Google Android

Over two dozen Android apps found stealing user data

7 Jul 2020
Visit/security/ransomware/356292/university-of-california-gets-fleeced-by-hackers-for-114-million
ransomware

University of California gets fleeced by hackers for $1.14 million

30 Jun 2020
Visit/security/cyber-security/356289/australia-announces-135b-investment-in-cybersecurity
cyber security

Australia announces $1.35 billion investment in cyber security

30 Jun 2020
Visit/cloud/cloud-security/356288/csa-and-issa-form-cybersecurity-partnership
cloud security

CSA and ISSA form cyber security partnership

30 Jun 2020

Most Popular

Visit/mobile/google-android/356373/over-2-dozen-additional-android-apps-found-stealing-user-data
Google Android

Over two dozen Android apps found stealing user data

7 Jul 2020
Visit/laptops/29190/how-to-find-ram-speed-size-and-type
Laptops

How to find RAM speed, size and type

24 Jun 2020
Visit/cloud/356260/the-road-to-recovery
Sponsored

The road to recovery

30 Jun 2020