NewsApril 6, 2017 @ 12:15 PM

Pegasus Spyware Introduces Itself to Android

Since Pegasus spyware was found on iOS devices in August 2016, Google and Lookout Security have been watching for potential surveillance applications. Pegasus was developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, a “lawful intercept” vendor. This means that they come up with the tools that governments may want for espionage but can’t create themselves.

Pegasus utilized three Apple iOS zero-day exploits that were collectively known as Trident, which have since been patched. The Android version of the Pegasus spyware is known as Chrysaor and seems to be aimed at versions of Android Jelly Bean (4.3) or earlier.

A Small Target Area

Google said its analysis showed that less than three dozen devices, mostly in Israel, were affected by Chrysaor. It disabled Chrysaor on those devices and notified users of all known affected devices.

The spyware relied on social engineering to entire targets to download the malicious software and did not use any known zero-day exploits. Once Chrysaor was installed, a remote operator would be able to surveil the victim’s activities on the device as well as within the local vicinity, Google noted.

All-Encompassing Surveillance Activities

Chrysaor used the microphone, camera, data collection, and logging and tracking application activities from communication apps. It could also capture screenshots and disable system updates for the operating system.

Researchers observed the malware leveraging known framaroot exploits as a way to escalate privileges and access Android’s application sandbox. Additionally, they found another escalation path: Chrysaor could elevate access with an attempted superuser binary prepositioned at /system/csk.

Once aboard, the spyware snarfed data such as emails, calendar information, browser history, call logs, contacts, SMS messages and settings. It even gained information from certain messaging apps such as Skype, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber and Kakao. It could capture screen shots, keylog, disable system updates, and survey the microphone and camera hardware.

Pegasus Spyware Erases Itself

Meanwhile, Lookout Security noted that the spyware has the ability to wipe itself to maintain its stealth. “Pegasus for Android will remove itself from the phone if the SIM MCC ID is invalid, an ‘antidote’ file exists, it has not been able to check in with the servers after 60 days or it receives a command from the server to remove itself,” the researchers found.

To maintain security against Chysaor and other potentially harmful spyware, users should keep device software up to date, install apps only from verified sources and use a secure lock on their home screens.

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Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He wrote for IBM's DeveloperWorks site for seven years and has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange.