Google says Apple and Android Phones were Hacked by Italian Spyware
An Italian company has developed hacking tools to spy on private messages and contacts from targeted devices
Google Alphabet Inc said in a report Thursday that hacking tools from an Italian company were used to spy on Apple Inc phones and Android smartphones in Italy and Kazakhstan. The Milan-based RCS lab, whose website claims European law enforcement agencies are agents, has developed tools to spy on private messages and contacts from target devices, according to the report.
European and US regulators were weighing potential new rules for the sale and import of spyware. Google said: “These vendors help spread dangerous hacking tools and arm governments that cannot develop these capabilities internally.”
The governments of Italy and Kazakhstan did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An Apple spokesperson said the company has revoked all accounts and certificates associated with this hacking campaign.
RCS Lab said its products and services comply with European standards and help law enforcement investigate crimes. “RCS Lab employees are not exposed to or involved in any activities of the customers concerned,” he told Reuters in an email, adding that he condemned any misuse of its products.
Google said it took steps to protect users of its Android operating system and alerted them to spyware.
The global industry that makes spyware for governments is growing, with more companies developing interception tools for law enforcement. Anti-surveillance activists accuse them of aiding governments that, in some cases, use such tools to suppress human and civil rights.
The industry was pushed into the global spotlight when it was discovered in recent years that the Pegasus spyware of the Israeli monitoring company NSO has been used by various governments to spy on journalists, activists and dissidents.
Although the RCS Lab tool may not be as stealthy as Pegasus, it can still read messages and see passwords, said Bill Marczak, a security researcher at digital monitoring firm Citizen Lab. “It shows that while these devices are ubiquitous, there is still a long way to go to protect against these powerful attacks,” he added.
On its website, RCS Lab describes itself as a manufacturer of “lawful intercept” technologies and services that include voice, data collection, and “tracking systems.” It says it deals with 10,000 intercepted targets per day in Europe alone.
Google researchers discovered that RCS Lab had previously collaborated with the controversial and expired Italian spying company Hacking Team, which similarly created surveillance software for foreign governments to gain access to phones and computers.
Hacking Team went bankrupt after a major hack in 2015 that exposed several internal documents.
In some cases, Google said it believed hackers using RCS spyware were working with the target ISP, suggesting they had ties to government-backed actors, Billy Leonard, Google’s principal investigator, said.
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