Chinese Hackers Compromise Telecom Servers to Spy on SMS Messages

A group of Chinese hackers carrying out political espionage for Beijing has been identified focusing on telecommunications businesses with a new piece of malware developed to spy on text messages despatched or acquired by extremely targeted people today.

Dubbed “MessageTap,” the backdoor malware is a 64-little bit ELF info miner that has lately been learned installed on a Linux-based mostly Quick Information Service Middle (SMSC) server of an unnamed telecommunications corporation.

In accordance to a latest report revealed by FireEye’s Mandiant business, MessageTap has been produced and used by APT41, a prolific Chinese hacking team that carries out point out-sponsored espionage functions and has also been located involved in monetarily determined attacks.

In cellular telephone networks, SMSC servers act as a center-person provider liable for managing the SMS operations by routing messages between senders and recipients.

Due to the fact SMSes are not designed to be encrypted, neither on transmitting nor on the telecom servers, compromising an SMSC technique allows attackers to watch all community connections to and from the server as properly as info inside them.

How Does MessageTap Malware Do the job?

MessageTap takes advantage of the libpcap library to keep track of all SMS visitors and then parses the written content of just about every information to ascertain IMSI and telephone numbers of the sender and the recipient.

messagetap chinese malware

According to the scientists, hackers have built MessageTap malware to filter and only preserve messages:

  • despatched or been given by specific cellphone quantities,
  • containing specified keywords and phrases, or
  • with specific IMSI numbers.

For this, MessageTap depends on two configuration data files furnished by attackers — keyword_parm.txt and parm.txt — that have a list of targeted telephone numbers, IMSI numbers, and key phrases linked to “higher-ranking people of curiosity to the Chinese intelligence solutions.”

“Each files are deleted from disk as soon as the configuration documents are examine and loaded into memory. After loading the key word and phone facts data files, MESSAGETAP commences monitoring all community connections to and from the server,” the scientists claimed in its report produced nowadays.

“The details in key phrase_parm.txt contained phrases of geopolitical desire to Chinese intelligence assortment.”

If it finds an SMS information text of desire, the malware XORs its written content and saves it to CSV data files for later theft by the danger actor.

Web Application Firewall

According to the researchers, “the risk of unencrypted information becoming intercepted various layers upstream in their mobile interaction chain” is particularly “important for hugely focused men and women this kind of as dissidents, journalists, and officials that manage really sensitive facts.”

Apart from this, the APT41 hacking team has also been discovered stealing call element records (CDR) corresponded to large-position international folks all through this exact intrusion, exposing metadata of calls, such as the time of the calls, their duration, and the supply and desired destination cellular phone quantities.

Chinese hackers concentrating on telecommunications organizations isn’t new. In this yr alone, the APT41 hacking group qualified at minimum four telecommunications entities, and independent Chinese-suspected state-sponsored groups also noticed hitting four further telecommunications businesses.

In accordance to the FireEye scientists, this pattern will go on and much more this kind of strategies will be uncovered shortly, and thus to mitigate a diploma of risks, qualified organisations need to take into consideration deploying an proper interaction application that enforces conclusion-to-conclude encryption.

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