Google has has recently revealed that in an effort to improve its systems that protect users, it unearthed a new family of spyware that was used in an attack on a small number of Android devices, dubbed Chrysaor.
An Israeli spy app targeting specific users
According to researchers, Chrysaor is suspected of being created by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli firm specialized in the creation of software. The app is also apparently linked to notorious iOS malware Pegasus that was identified by Citizen Lab and Lookout.
NSO Group Technologies has, in the past, been accused of targeting human rights activists with Pegasus, and of selling smartphone hacking software to spy agencies. It is believed the firm was trying something similar with Chrysaor, specifically targeting Android devices this time.
The app was discovered after Google analyzed Pegasus-related data, and even though it was never available on Google Play it has been found on nearly three dozen devices, located mainly in Israel, Georgia, Mexico and Turkey.
According to Google, the goal was not to target as many users as possible, but only a select few. The company said:
To install Chrysaor, we believe an attacker coaxed specifically targeted individuals to download the malicious software onto their device
Once these users were infected, Chrysaor allowed its operators to remotely surveil its victims using the device’s microphone, camera, logging and tracking applications, as well as communication apps such as SMS, Skype and Viber. The spyware didn’t just collect keylogging data, it collected screenshots, tapped rooms users were in, and collected location data.
If Chrysaor failed to hijack a phone on its first try, it would then ask for permission that would allow it to access and export data, making it easier than Pegasus to deploy. Google has already notified potential targets, giving them information on how to mitigate the threat.
How it managed to stay hidden
The spy app even had a few tricks up its sleeve in order to stay hidden. Chrysaor was created with a self-destruct mode built in, that would activate if the device did not check in to the server for 60 days. The app could also be removed via command from its server, or via an antidote file located in the device.
Michael Flossman, mobile security researcher at Lookout, even said that:
If it feels like it’s going to be found, it removes itself
Being able to remove itself can explain why security researchers weren’t able to find the problem sooner. According to some, it can even mean that Chrysaor has been around for longer than Pegasus and has likely infected well over the three dozen devices it was found on.
Even though the likelihood of other users being affected by the spyware is small, the tech giant still recommended precautionary measures, such as only installing apps from reputable sources online, and keeping devices updated. Reportedly, the Chrysaor app was tailored to devices running Android Jellybean or earlier.
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