Home Security Pakistan claimed to be behind malware stealing military, govt data

Researchers from the security firm Lookout say they have discovered malware families propagated by Pakistani sources that can infect both Android and iOS devices and are being used to steal information from government officials, diplomats, military personnel and activists.

Andrew Blaich, the manager of Vulnerability Research, and Michael Flossman, Security Research Services tech lead, both of the Lookout Security Intelligence team, wrote in a blog post that the targets of the campaign, which they claimed to be run by Pakistani military officers, were located in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

But in the wide sweep of the campaign, data from US, Australian and German officials and military personnel had also been swept up, they said.

pak malware aussies

Details about travel in and around Pakistan for Australian diplomats.

Blaich and Flossman said they had named the malware families Stealth Mango (Android) and Tangelo (iOS).

They said Google had been alerted to the existence of Stealth Mango and had sent them the following statement: "Google identified the apps associated with this actor, none of the apps were on the Google Play Store. Google Play Protect has been updated to protect user devices from these apps and is in the process of removing them from all affected devices."

The attackers behind Stealth Mango were said to usually lure victims through the well-worn technique of phishing messages sent by fake Facebook personas, but also used physical access to steal data from victims' devices.

They said most of the content seen would be of interest only to someone working on behalf of a nation-state:

  • Letters and internal government communications;
  • Detailed travel information;
  • Pictures of IDs and passports;
  • GPS co-ordinates of pictures and devices;
  • Legal and medical documents;
  • Developer information including whiteboard sessions, account information, and test devices; and
  • Photos of the military, government, and related officials from closed door meetings including US Army personnel.

Blaich and Flossman provided a picture of a document (above) they had found, about the visit of some Australian diplomats from the country's mission in Islamabad to a place/people which they redacted.

Also provided was a picture (below) of military personnel from a number of countries, including the US, attending a meeting.

pak malware military

Exfiltrated content was found to contain military photos including a series of images from an event with military attendees from numerous countries including US Army personnel.

"We have also identified, as part of this investigation, several individuals whom we believe are responsible for the development of other commodity Android and iOS spyware tools that share many similarities to Stealth Mango and Tangelo," the two Lookout researchers said.

"These individuals all belong to the same freelance developer group for hire, which says it has a physical presence in India, Pakistan, and the United States."

A detailed technical report on the two malware campaigns can be downloaded here.

Photos: courtesy Lookout Security Intelligence

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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