For nearly three years, an unknown attacker in India has taken over 13 iPhones in the same country, using a mobile device management server, but has apparently done little beyond replacing some apps with his/her own versions, researchers from Cisco claim.
Log files that had been examined revealed that the attacker, who had tried to pretend to be Russian by using a mail.ru email address, was in India as the telephone number being used was from India and used the Vodafone India network.
Warren Mercer, Paul Rascagneres and Andrew Williams of the company's Talos Intelligence Group, said in a detailed blog post about the campaign that while they were uncertain how the attacker had taken control of the 13 devices, it was likely to have been through social engineering.
The attacker had used a customised version of the MDM in question and gone to great lengths to replace specific apps for data interception.
The trio said that Apple had worked closely with them and had cancelled five certificates which had been used in the campaign.
The overall workflow of the deployment method and capabilities used by the attacker.
"In this campaign we identified five applications that have been distributed by this system to the 13 targeted devices in India," they wrote.
"Two of them appear to test the functionality of the device, one steals SMS message contents, and the remaining two report the location of the device and can exfiltrate various data."
The attacker used a sideloading technique known as BOptions to add features to legitimate apps, including WhatsApp and Telegram.
Mercer, Rascagneres and Williams said logs from the MDM server and the command and control server used by the attacker had shown that the campaign had begun in August 2015.
"MDM is becoming more popular throughout large enterprises, and users should be aware that installing additional certificates on their device to allow remote management can result in potential malicious activity," the three researchers pointed out.
"By installing a certificate outside of the Apple iOS trusted certificate chain, you may open up to possible third-party attacks like this.
"Users must be aware that accepting an MDM certificate is equivalent to allowing someone administrator access to their device, passwords, etc. This must be done with great care in order to avoid security issues and should not be something the average home user does."
Graphic: courtesy Cisco
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Highly targeted campaign focuses on 13 iPhones in India