Featured Article

Google is notifying Android users targeted by Hermit government-grade spyware

The spyware has targeted victims in Kazakhstan and Italy

Comment

An illustration showing spyware on a red phone on a blue background with blinking eyes.
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Security researchers at Lookout recently tied a previously unattributed Android mobile spyware, dubbed Hermit, to Italian software house RCS Lab. Now, Google threat researchers have confirmed much of Lookout’s findings and are notifying Android users whose devices were compromised by the spyware.

Hermit is a commercial spyware known to be used by governments, with victims in Kazakhstan and Italy, according to Lookout and Google. Lookout says it’s also seen the spyware deployed in northern Syria. The spyware uses various modules, which it downloads from its command and control servers as they are needed, to collect call logs, record ambient audio, redirect phone calls and collect photos, messages, emails and the device’s precise location from a victim’s device. Lookout said in its analysis that Hermit, which works on all Android versions, also tries to root an infected Android device, granting the spyware even deeper access to the victim’s data.

Lookout said that targeted victims are sent a malicious link by text message and tricked into downloading and installing the malicious app — which masquerades as a legitimate branded telco or messaging app — from outside of the app store.

According to a new blog post published Thursday and shared with TechCrunch ahead of its publication, Google said it found evidence that in some cases the government actors in control of the spyware worked with the target’s internet provider to cut their mobile data connectivity, likely as a lure to trick the target into downloading an telco-themed app under the guise of restoring connectivity.

Google also analyzed a sample of the Hermit spyware targeting iPhones, which Lookout said previously it was unable to obtain. According to Google’s findings, the Hermit iOS app — which abuses Apple enterprise developer certificates allowing the spyware to be sideloaded on a victim’s device from outside of the app store — is packed with six different exploits, two of which were never-before-seen vulnerabilities — or zero-days — at the time of their discovery. One of the zero-day vulnerabilities was known to Apple as being actively exploited before it was fixed.

Neither the Android nor iOS versions of the Hermit spyware were found in the app stores, according to both companies. Google said it has “notified the Android users of infected devices,” and has updated Google Play Protect, the app security scanner built-in to Android, to block the app from running. Google said it also pulled the plug on the spyware’s Firebase account, which the spyware used for communicating with its servers.

Google did not say how many Android users it was notifying.

Apple spokesperson Trevor Kincaid told TechCrunch that Apple has revoked all known accounts and certificates associated with this spyware campaign.

Hermit is the latest government-grade spyware known to be deployed by state agencies. Although it’s not known who has been targeted by governments using Hermit, similar mobile spyware developed by hacking-for-hire companies, like NSO Group and Candiru, have been linked to surveillance of journalists, activists and human rights defenders.

When reached for comment, RCS Lab provided an unattributed statement, which read in part:

RCS Lab exports its products in compliance with both national and European rules and regulations. Any sales or implementation of products is performed only after receiving an official authorization from the competent authorities. Our products are delivered and installed within the premises of approved customers. RCS Lab personnel are not exposed, nor participate in any activities conducted by the relevant customers.


You can contact this reporter on Signal and WhatsApp at +1 646-755-8849 or zack.whittaker@techcrunch.com by email.

Researchers say Hermit, a powerful mobile spyware, is used by governments

More TechCrunch

TikTok is pulling out all the stops to prevent its impending ban in the United States. Aside from initiating legal challenges against the government, that means shaping up its public…

As a U.S. ban looms, TikTok announces a $1M program for socially driven creators

Microsoft wants to put its Copilot everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft renames its annual Build developer conference to Microsoft Copilot. Hopefully, some of those upcoming events…

Microsoft’s Power Automate no-code platform adds AI flows

Build is Microsoft’s largest developer conference and of course, it’s all about AI this year. So it’s no surprise that GitHub’s Copilot, GitHub’s “AI pair programming tool,” is taking center…

GitHub Copilot gets extensions

Microsoft wants to make its brand of generative AI more useful for teams — specifically teams across corporations and large enterprise organizations. This morning at its annual Build dev conference,…

Microsoft intros a Copilot for teams

Microsoft’s big focus at this year’s Build conference is generative AI. And to that end, the tech giant announced a series of updates to its platforms for building generative AI-powered…

Microsoft upgrades its AI app-building platforms

The UK’s data protection watchdog has closed an almost year-long investigation of Snap’s AI chatbot, My AI — saying it’s satisfied the social media firm has addressed concerns about risks…

UK data protection watchdog ends privacy probe of Snap’s GenAI chatbot, but warns industry

U.S. cell carrier Patriot Mobile experienced a data breach that included subscribers’ personal information, including full names, email addresses, home zip codes, and account PINs, TechCrunch has learned. Patriot Mobile,…

Conservative cell carrier Patriot Mobile hit by data breach

It’s been three years since Spotify acquired live audio startup Betty Labs, and yet the music streaming service isn’t leveraging the technology to its fullest potential—at least not in our…

Spotify’s ‘Listening Party’ feature falls short of expectations

Alchemist Accelerator has a new pile of AI-forward companies demoing their wares today, if you care to watch, and the program itself is making some international moves into Tokyo and…

Alchemist’s latest batch puts AI to work as accelerator expands to Tokyo, Doha

“Late Pledge” allows campaign creators to continue collecting money even after the campaign has closed.

Kickstarter now lets you pledge after a campaign closes

Stack AI’s co-founders, Antoni Rosinol and Bernardo Aceituno, were PhD students at MIT wrapping up their degrees in 2022 just as large language models were becoming more mainstream. ChatGPT would…

Stack AI wants to make it easier to build AI-fueled workflows

Pinecone, the vector database startup founded by Edo Liberty, the former head of Amazon’s AI Labs, has long been at the forefront of helping businesses augment large language models (LLMs)…

Pinecone launches its serverless vector database out of preview

Young geothermal energy wells can be like budding prodigies, each brimming with potential to outshine their peers. But like people, most decline with age. In California, for example, the amount…

Special mud helps XGS Energy get more power out of geothermal wells

The market play is clear from the outset: The $449 headphones are firmly targeted at an audience that would otherwise be purchasing the Bose QC Ultra or Apple AirPods Max.

Sonos finally made some headphones

Adobe says the feature is up to the task, regardless of how complex of a background the object is set against.

Adobe brings Firefly AI-powered Generative Remove to Lightroom

All cars suffer when the mercury drops, but electric vehicles suffer more than most as heaters draw more power and batteries charge more slowly as the liquid electrolyte inside thickens.…

Porsche Ventures invests in battery startup South 8 to boost cold-weather EV performance

Scale AI has raised a $1 billion Series F round from a slew of big-name institutional and corporate investors including Amazon and Meta.

Data-labeling startup Scale AI raises $1B as valuation doubles to $13.8B

The new coalition, Tech Against Scams, will work together to find ways to fight back against the tools used by scammers and to better educate the public against financial scams.

Meta, Match, Coinbase and others team up to fight online fraud and crypto scams

It’s a wrap: European Union lawmakers have given the final approval to set up the bloc’s flagship, risk-based regulations for artificial intelligence.

EU Council gives final nod to set up risk-based regulations for AI

London-based fintech Vitesse has closed a $93 million Series C round of funding led by investment giant KKR.

Vitesse, a payments and treasury management platform for insurers, raises $93M to fuel US expansion

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €285M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund