Researchers have discovered an enterprise-grade Android family of modular spyware dubbed Hermit conducting surveillance on citizens of Kazakhstan by their government.
Lookout Threat Lab researchers – who spotted the spyware – surmise that the secretive Italian spyware vendor RCS Lab developed it and say Hermit was previously deployed by Italian authorities in a 2019 anti-corruption operation in Italy. The spyware also was found in northeastern Syria, home to the country’s Kurdish majority and a site of ongoing crises, including the Syrian civil war.
Android devices have been abused with spyware in the past; Sophos researchers uncovered new variants of Android spyware linked to a Middle Eastern APT group back in November 2021. More recent analysis from Google TAG indicates at least eight governments from across the globe are buying Android zero-day exploits for covert surveillance purposes.
Mike Parkin, senior technical engineer at Vulcan Cyber, says spyware is a tool used by many actors worldwide, including criminal organizations, state or state-sponsored threat actors, national security, and law-enforcement organizations following their own mandates.
“Regardless of who is using it or what agenda they are working toward, these commercial- grade spyware tools can seriously threaten people’s personal privacy,” he says.
The highest profile spyware case in recent memory was the discovery of Pegasus, a legal surveillance software developed by Israeli company NSO Group. The news caused an international furor after it was found covertly installed on iOS and Android mobile phones belonging to human rights activists, journalists, and high-ranking members of governments.
How Hermit Works
Hermit first gets installed on a targeted device as a framework with minimal surveillance capability. Then it can download modules from a command-and-control (C2) server as instructed and activate the spying functionality built into these modules.
This modular approach masks the malware from automated analysis of the app and makes manual malware analysis significantly harder. In addition, it allows the malicious actor to enable and disable different functionalities in their surveillance campaign or the…