Security researchers have uncovered new Android spyware with never-before-seen functions, like the ability to steal your WhatsApp messages.
Kaspersky Lab spotted the spyware, dubbed Skygofree, and called it one of the most powerful espionage tools for Android the company has ever seen. It has been active since 2014, and once installed, it can secretly take pictures, record videos, and seize data from your phone.
Although WhatsApp is built with end-to-end encryption, the spyware can still lift messages from the app. It does so by exploiting Android's Accessibility Services to read the content displayed over the messaging service. Another never-before-seen feature is the spyware's ability to eavesdrop on the victim when the device enters certain locations.
Kaspersky Lab said fake webpages pretending to be mobile carriers have been tricking victims into installing the spyware. "Download the update now and keep on navigating at maximum speed!" the fake webpages claim.
However, the spyware doesn't appear to be from cybercriminals. It probably belongs to a cyber-surveillance company based in Italy, according to Kaspersky Lab. The spyware contains several references to the term "negg," which is also the name of an IT company based in Rome.
So far, the Italian company hasn't commented on Kaspersky's research. According to its website, Negg is a cybersecurity provider that develops applications for mobile devices. Kaspersky refrained from naming Negg as the culprit behind the spyware, but said the spyware is possibly an "offensive" security product. Its developer may have very well been following in the footsteps of Hacking Team, another Italian security company known for selling surveillance tech to law enforcement and governments, Kaspersky added.
The good news is that most consumers will probably never encounter the Skygofree spyware. The victims have so far been exclusively based in Italy, according to Kaspersky Lab.
Nevertheless, the malicious code goes to show how powerful digital espionage tools have become. To protect yourself, it's best to avoid opening attachments or visiting download links from senders you don't know. Antivirus software can also detect various forms of spyware.