Israeli soldiers hit in cyberespionage campaign using Android malware

More than 100 soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces had their Android phones infected with malware by a cyberespionage group

More than 100 members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the majority of them stationed around the Gaza strip, fell victim to a cyberespionage attack that used malicious Android applications to steal information from their mobile devices.

The attack campaign started in July and continues to date, according to researchers from antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab, who cooperated in the investigation with the IDF Information Security Department.

The Israeli soldiers were lured via Facebook Messenger and other social networks by hackers who posed as attractive women from various countries like Canada, Germany, and Switzerland. The victims were tricked into installing a malicious Android application, which then scanned the phone and downloaded another malicious app that masqueraded as an update for one of the already installed applications.

For example, the Kaspersky researchers have seen a payload named “WhatsApp_Update." Once installed on the phone, this malicious app allows hackers to execute on-demand or scheduled commands. The commands can be used to read text messages, access the contacts list, take pictures and screenshots, eavesdrop at specific times of the day, and record video and audio.

The Kaspersky researchers concluded that this is likely only the "opening shot" of the operation and that it is a targeted attack against the Israel Defense Forces, "aiming to exfiltrate data on how ground forces are spread, which tactics and equipment the IDF is using, and real-time intelligence gathering."

The attack is a clear example of how malware can be used in warfare to spy on enemy soldiers. A similar attack, also using Android malware, has recently infected the mobile phones of Ukrainian artillery personnel involved in a conflict in the Donbass region.

The Ukrainian malware, created by the Russian APT28 cyberespionage group, was delivered as a trojanized version of a custom application intended to help artillery forces more quickly process targeting data for the Soviet-made D-30 howitzer. The malware might have been used to track the movement of Ukrainian units, with open source data suggesting that in the two years of conflict the Ukrainian artillery lost over 80 percent of its D-30 howitzers.

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