THE COMPONENTS of a digital surveillance tool used by governments around the globe have been uncovered by Kaspersky Lab, whose research team tracked down and reverse engineered the Hacking Team's Remote Control System (RCS) tool.
Hacking Team is an Italian company that develops the 'legal' RCS spyware tool, and supposedly sells it to governments as a surveillance device. Kaspersky's Securelist has been tracking the Hacking Team since 2011, when Wikileaks released documents describing the functions of the spyware programs the company has offerred to government agencies since 2008.
In early 2012, Kaspersky Lab experts detected malicious programs running on Windows that were suspiciously similar to the programs described on Wikileaks as the Remote Control System, the description of which was published at the company's website www.hackingteam.it. However, at the time, Kaspersky Lab had no way of knowing about the connections between the threats that were detected and the Hacking Team spyware program.
However, now the Russian security company said that new components target iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry users, and are actually part of Hacking Team's much bigger set of tools targeting desktops and laptops.
From its findings, Kaspersky said the iOS and Android modules provide a multitude of features to whoevers hands they fall into, giving them complete control over targeted phones.
"Secretly activating the microphone and taking regular camera shots provides constant surveillance of the target-which is much more powerful than traditional cloak and dagger operations," Kaspersky Lab researcher Sergey Golovanov said in a blog post about the findings.
The tools could give governments access to emails, text messages, call history and address books, as well as logging keystrokes and obtaining search history data.
From this point onwards, the tool can track a user's location via the phone's GPS signal, take screenshots, record audio from the phones to monitor calls or conversations, or hijack the phone's camera to take pictures.
"We have also seen the emergence of privately owned companies that, according to the information on their official websites, develop and offer software to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the collection of data from user computers," Kaspersky's Securelist post read.
"Countries that do not have the requisite technical capabilities are thus able to purchase software with similar functions from private companies.
"In spite of the fact that most countries have laws prohibiting the creation and distribution of malicious programs, this spyware is offered with almost no attempt to conceal its functions."
The firm added that so far, there aren't very many of these companies and almost no competition in this particular market, which makes it very attractive to new players and thus sets the stage for a technology race among them. µ