iOS 8 malware can snoop on messages, photos & location data

Spyware targeting iOS 7 and iOS 8 devices has been uncovered by security firm Trend Micro, who claim it could be used to steal users' text messages, photos and contact data.

The surveillance software is one of a number of tools used by members of Operation Pawn Storm, an ongoing cyber-espionage project targeting government, military and media organisations.

"The actors of Pawn Storm tend to first move a lot of pawns in the hopes they come close to their actual, high-profile targets," the company said in a blog post.

"When they finally successfully infect [one], they might decide to move their next pawn forward: advanced espionage malware."

The spyware highlighted by Trend Micro falls into the latter category, and tends to be installed on devices that have already been compromised in the form of two malicious applications - XAgent (detected as IOS_XAGENT.A) and the one using the name of a legitimate iOS game, MadCap (detected as IOS_ XAGENT.B).

Their aim is to spy on activities of iOS device users and in the process steal their personal data, take screenshots, record audio and pass this data on to a command-and-control (C&C) server somewhere.

While the spyware works on iOS 7 and iOS 8 devices, its modus operandi depends on the operating system being used.

"After being installed on iOS 7, the app's icon is hidden and it runs in the background immediately. When we try to terminate it by killing the process, it will restart almost immediately.

"Installing the malware into an iOS 8 device yields different results. The icon is not hidden and it also cannot restart automatically. This suggests that malware was designed prior to the release of iOS 8 last September."

Interestingly, iOS devices do not need to be jailbroken in order to fall victim to this malware, Trend Micro added, and infection could be caused by connecting them to another compromised piece of hardware.

"One possible scenario is infecting an iPhone after connecting it to a compromised or infected Windows laptop via a USB cable," the blog post concluded.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.