Some surveillance tools are being used by the advanced persistent threat group (APT) Confucius, which first appeared in 2013 as a state-sponsored, pro-India actor primarily pursuing Pakistani and other South Asian targets. Targets of these tools include personnel linked to Pakistan’s military, nuclear authorities, and Indian election officials in Kashmir. Hornbill and SunBird have sophisticated capabilities to exfiltrate SMS, encrypted messaging app content, and geolocation, among other types of sensitive information.
SunBird has been disguised as applications that include:
The majority of applications appear to target Muslim individuals.
The operators behind Hornbill are extremely interested in a user’s WhatsApp communications. In addition to exfiltrating message content and sender information of messages, Hornbill records WhatsApp calls by detecting an active call by abusing Android’s accessibility services. The exploitation of Android’s accessibility services in this manner is a trend in Android surveillanceware. This enables the threat actor to avoid the need for privilege escalation on a device.
Some notable targets included an individual who applied for a position at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, individuals with numerous contacts in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), as well as officers responsible for electoral rolls (Booth Level Officers) located in the Pulwama district of Kashmir.
Hornbill application icons impersonate various chat and system applications.