We are currently living in an era in which the
most prized asset is information. It is the equivalent of power: whoever has
more relevant data will have the keys to unlock significant earning potential,
and that is why customer data and communications metadata is so important for
mobile carriers and network operators.
A new exploit was recently discovered, and it comes in the form of a SIM card malware that threatens to spy on more than one billion mobile devices. It has been named Simjacker and was unveiled by AdaptiveMobile Security’s research staff.
The threat is built around particular codes
that get to a person’s SIM card via SMS. The SIM card acts as the device’s
brain: it remembers the phone association with the mobile carrier. In the
attack, the SIM card is set up and configured to gather and send information
about the victim to the cybercriminal, thanks to the spyware.
Some of the things that a hacker can achieve with this type of attack are retrieving the device’s identity and real-time location, but the damage has the potential to be a lot more painful since the denial of service (DoS) attacks and fraudulent calls could also be performed.
The investigators and researchers that
discovered the threat explained that cybercriminals have been taking advantage
of the exploit for at least a couple of years, and they have managed to learn
their victims’ real-time location through their devices without them knowing
anything about it.
The staff refers to a sophisticated and highly
skilled hacker that has exploited the vulnerability of several nations around
the world. The attack, being at the SIM card level, messes with the core
technology of the device and its ability to communicate with the world, not
with hardware. Because of that, the specialists that unveiled its estimate that
the threat can reach up to one billion mobile devices around the world, with no
distinction of brand or model.
The SIM card becomes exploitable just by
neglecting the check of the origin of messages and letting SMS download data,
which makes Simjacker a potential cybersecurity problem that goes beyond phone
makers and brands.
The AdaptiveMobile Security staff states that its confidence level in the fact that the vulnerability has been implemented as a means to spy on people’s activity is very high. However, and despite that fact, the company doesn’t know or doesn’t indicate the actor or actors that may be behind the criminal activity.
Also, the company hasn’t indicated whether the
person or people behind the attacks is a private firm that is selling its
services around the web world, or if it is associated with a particular country
The research team outlined that it has been
working together with phone users, SIM card manufacturers, and other actors in
the industry to find measures and methods that can offer protection to users
around the world. AdaptiveMobile emphasizes that attacks have been avoided and
security systems have been enhanced at the new threat.
The hackers arrange everything to send SIM
Toolkit instructions from a short message sender. The attack has an old-school
approach because it doesn’t affect any operating system or hardware: the
malware has an effect on the SIM card.
It is mind-boggling that something as obsolete
as SIM cards and SMS messages can represent such a dangerous threat to such a
high number of devices around the globe. Both of those elements combine with
outdated industry-standard software designed when SIM cards came under
different settings and circumstances.
The researchers said that it is still in use
while in the background, which is similar to other legacy technologies. The sad
thing is that highly skilled hackers can easily exploit the vulnerable, weak
security layers that have become obsolete.
When a device gets the perpetrator’s message,
the SIM’s S@T Browser will not be an execution ecosystem and will engage with
its mobile, something that SIM cards are known to have done a long time ago.
Once the infected mobile phone sends an SMS back to the cybercriminal, it will have the data that is considered so valuable in our current reality. It could be the first spyware at the SMS level.
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