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Infosec 2013 Tibetan political campaigners targeted by mysterious smartphone-spying software. Eastern European governments' mobiles allegedly snooped on by state-sponsored hackers. Malware feared injected into gadgets during customs inspections.

You've seen these headlines. And according to Kaspersky Lab’s senior malware analyst Denis Maslennikov, there will be more of the same.

In March, Tibetan activists were hit by a highly targeted form of Android malware that accessed their contacts, call logs, text messages, location data, and other information.

Maslennikov, speaking to El Reg, reckons this is nothing new in Android world: he said state-sponsored hackers, in a separate and earlier espionage campaign, infected droid-powered gadgets used by governments in Eastern Europe and beyond - in a spying operation codenamed Red October. Circumstantial evidence to back this claim is laid out in greater detail in this blog post by Kaspersky.

The AndroidOS-Chuli-A Trojan thrown against Tibetan protestors was "not that sophisticated for Android malware", according to Maslennikov, who explained that by targeting smartphones, spies could swipe contact information from the device and its SIM card that would be hard to obtain with other techniques.

Maslennikov described last month's Tibetan attack as a shape of things to come, rather than a one-off. Infiltration attempts using combinations of social engineering skills, zero-day vulnerabilities and exploits are more and more likely.

Meanwhile, the commercial FinFisher (AKA FinSpy) application, produced by Anglo-German firm Gamma International and marketed as a “lawful interception” suite, allows cops and spooks to infiltrate and monitor computers used by suspected criminals. It has reportedly been bought by state agencies in the Middle East and Southeast Asia to spy on human rights activists and other targets.

A recent report by security researchers from The Citizen Lab details the discovery of a mobile phone version of FinSpy. This features GPS tracking, the ability to snoop on spoken conversations taking place close to the hacked handset, and the power to lift text messages from compromised smartphones.

Today, state-backed cyber-spies will "try to attack everything", according to Maslennikov, who said that Mac computers were penetrated in order to snoop on Tibetan and Uyghur political activists. And it's been widely suspected that smartphones passing through Chinese customs sometimes come out the other side with unwelcome extras.

"High-level attackers will target everything possible," he added. "We must protect all kinds of devices. Please don't think your smartphone or tablet is safer than your PC." ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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