Wikileaks published another set of documents Thursday. The latest release of files purportedly from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) details a piece of malicious software for Android devices.
The malware, referred to as Highrise, can redirect or intercept text messages sent to a target’s phone, allowing a CIA agent to access it before it lands in the inbox of the person it was intended for.
According to the description provided by Wikileaks, HighRise acts as a proxy server for text messages, bouncing the messages to internet “listening posts” that allow an agent to intercept them. While the malicious software provides the CIA with a powerful snooping tool, there is a major limitation to Highrise. The malware has to be installed onto a device manually rather than remotely, so an agent would have to physically have contact with the device of the victim in order to infect the handset.
Once installed, an application named TideCheck shows up in the list of apps on the device. TideCheck houses HighRise. The agent has to then open the app to start the program, then run a special code by entering the word “inshallah” (“God willing” in Arabic) into a text box disguised to look like it’s asking for an activation code for the app. Once the code is entered, the agent will have access the app’s settings.
After the initial installation, HighRise runs in the background to perform its task. The application starts automatically every time the phone is powered on, so it could continue to intercept texts for more than a single cycle—previously published CIA malware disappeared after a restart in order to avoid detection.
The user manual for HighRise published by Wikileaks is dated December 2013. At the time, the malware was designed to work on Android devices running versions 4.0 through 4.3 of the operating systems, which includes Android Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. Currently, 8.8 percent of all Android devices run those versions of the mobile operating system.
It is unclear is HighRise is still an active tool used by the CIA or if it has been updated to work with newer versions of Android. The documentation referred to HighRise as version 2.0 of the malicious software, meaning there was at least one prior version and could have been subsequent versions produced by the agency. The release is the latest from WikiLeaks as part of its Vault 7 series, which has focused on releasing leaked documents from the CIA detailing the government agency’s technical capabilities.
Previous leaks have shown the intelligence group’s ability to compromise Apple devices, Windows machines, launch malware attacks, obfuscate the origins of an attack to hide its tracks, compromise Wi-Fi routers to track a target’s activity online, attack air-gapped computer networks, and track the location of a target via Wi-Fi.
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