Hackers uncover new TheTruthSpy stalkerware victims: Is your Android device compromised?

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A consumer-grade spyware operation called TheTruthSpy poses an ongoing security and privacy risk to thousands of people whose Android devices are unknowingly compromised with its mobile surveillance apps, not least due to a simple security flaw that its operators never fixed.

Now, two hacking groups have independently found the flaw that allows the mass access of victims’ stolen mobile device data directly from TheTruthSpy’s servers.

Switzerland-based hacker maia arson crimew said in a blog post that the hacking groups SiegedSec and ByteMeCrew identified and exploited the flaw in December 2023. Crimew, who was given a cache of TheTruthSpy’s victim data from ByteMeCrew, also described finding several new security vulnerabilities in TheTruthSpy’s software stack.

SPYWARE LOOKUP TOOL

You can check to see if your Android phone or tablet was compromised here.

In a post on Telegram, SiegedSec and ByteMeCrew said they are not publicly releasing the breached data, given its highly sensitive nature.

Crimew provided TechCrunch with some of the breached TheTruthSpy data for verification and analysis, which included the unique device IMEI numbers and advertising IDs of tens of thousands of Android phones recently compromised by TheTruthSpy.

TechCrunch verified the new data is authentic by matching some of the IMEI numbers and advertising IDs against a list of previous devices known to be compromised by TheTruthSpy as discovered during an earlier TechCrunch investigation.

The latest batch of data includes the Android device identifiers of every phone and tablet compromised by TheTruthSpy up to and including December 2023. The data shows TheTruthSpy continues to actively spy on large clusters of victims across Europe, India, Indonesia, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

TechCrunch has added the latest unique identifiers — about 50,000 new Android devices — to our free spyware lookup tool that lets you check if your Android device was compromised by TheTruthSpy.

Security bug in TheTruthSpy exposed victims’ device data

For a time, TheTruthSpy was one of the most prolific apps for facilitating secret mobile device surveillance.

TheTruthSpy is one of a fleet of near-identical Android spyware apps, including Copy9 and iSpyoo and others, which are stealthily planted on a person’s device by someone typically with knowledge of their passcode. These apps are called “stalkerware,” or “spouseware,” for their ability to illegally track and monitor people, often spouses, without their knowledge.

Apps like TheTruthSpy are designed to stay hidden on home screens, making these apps difficult to identify and remove, all the while continuously uploading the contents of a victim’s phone to a dashboard viewable by the abuser.

But while TheTruthSpy touted its powerful surveillance capabilities, the spyware operation paid little attention to the security of the data it was stealing.

As part of an investigation into consumer-grade spyware apps in February 2022, TechCrunch discovered that TheTruthSpy and its clone apps share a common vulnerability that exposes the victim’s phone data stored on TheTruthSpy’s servers. The bug is particularly damaging because it is extremely easy to exploit, and grants unfettered remote access to all of the data collected from a victim’s Android device, including their text messages, photos, call recordings and precise real-time location data.

But the operators behind TheTruthSpy never fixed the bug, leaving its victims exposed to having their data further compromised. Only limited information about the bug, known as CVE-2022-0732, was subsequently disclosed, and TechCrunch continues to withhold details of the bug due to the ongoing risk it poses to victims.

Given the simplicity of the bug, its public exploitation was only a matter of time.

TheTruthSpy linked to Vietnam-based startup, 1Byte

This is the latest in a streak of security incidents involving TheTruthSpy, and by extension the hundreds of thousands of people whose devices have been compromised and had their data stolen.

In June 2022, a source provided TechCrunch with leaked data containing records of every Android device ever compromised by TheTruthSpy. With no way to alert victims (and without potentially alerting their abusers), TechCrunch built a spyware lookup tool to allow anyone to check for themselves if their devices were compromised.

The lookup tool looks for matches against a list of IMEI numbers and advertising IDs known to have been compromised by TheTruthSpy and its clone apps. TechCrunch also has a guide on how to remove TheTruthSpy spyware — if it is safe to do so.

But TheTruthSpy’s poor security practices and leaky servers also helped to expose the real-world identities of the developers behind the operation, who had taken considerable efforts to conceal their identities.

TechCrunch later found that a Vietnam-based startup called 1Byte is behind TheTruthSpy. Our investigation found that 1Byte made millions of dollars over the years in proceeds from its spyware operation by funneling customer payments into Stripe and PayPal accounts set up under false American identities using fake U.S. passports, Social Security numbers and other forged documents.

Our investigation found that the false identities were linked to bank accounts in Vietnam run by 1Byte employees and its director, Van Thieu. At its peak, TheTruthSpy made over $2 million in customer payments.

PayPal and Stripe suspended the spyware maker’s accounts following recent inquiries from TechCrunch, as did the U.S.-based web hosting companies that 1Byte used to host the spyware operation’s infrastructure and store the vast banks of victims’ stolen phone data.

After the U.S. web hosts booted TheTruthSpy from their networks, the spyware operation is now hosted on servers in Moldova by a web host called AlexHost, run by Alexandru Scutaru, which claims a policy of ignoring U.S. copyright takedown requests.

Though hobbled and degraded, TheTruthSpy still actively facilitates surveillance on thousands of people, including Americans.

For as long as it remains online and operational, TheTruthSpy will threaten the security and privacy of its victims, past and present. Not just because of the spyware’s ability to invade a person’s digital life, but because TheTruthSpy cannot keep the data it steals from spilling onto the internet.

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