Iran could be spying on Brits and Americans using “weaponized” apps which are available on Apple and Google’s online stores, an explosive new report has claimed. The Iranian regime has created their own messaging apps which are spyware-enabled to help them hunt down anti-government protesters in the country, according to the report obtained by The Sun Online.
The report claims that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has created spyware-enabled apps for ‘cyber-surveillance and repression’ that are available on the App Store, the Google Play Store and GitHub with the goal of ‘monitoring and preventing’ new political uprisings.
The most popular of these applications is called Mobogram, which is used by millions of Iranians and is available to download by westerners on Apple’s App Store. Mobogram is ranked 156th on Apple’s App Store charts for ‘Social Networking Apps’ in the U.S., according to analytics company App Annie.
The report by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political group which opposes the Iranian regime, shows that Iranian expats are using Mobogram to communicate with their relatives in the troubled dictatorship.
Deputy Director of the council Alireza Jafarzadeh said that the Iranian regime has “weaponized smartphones” in its bid to thwart demonstrators in the country.
“The IRGC has weaponized western cyber technology to target its own people as the population is engaged in the uprising to free the country. When you download these apps and start using them, they have the ability to gain access to your contacts, track your location and they can see the content of your communications. They can find out who you are, your phone number, your address because they gain access to information on your SIM card. Some of the apps have found their way into global marketplaces such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store. This means the Iranian regime could target the millions of Iranian expats living abroad who communicate with their relatives,” he said.
Jafarzadeh’s says that the council’s research has shown that the regime has used the spyware to “threaten, arrest, torture and kill people.”
In December and January, the Iranian regime was rocked by anti-government protests which erupted in over 100 towns and cities across the Islamic Republic. The Council’s research shows that the government has developed around 100 spyware enabled apps allegedly using tech companies which are a front for the evil regime.
“Apps such as Mobogram are “forked”, or copied, from popular messaging app Telegram and “were promoted heavily” by the state-sponsored firms,” claims Jafarzadeh.
Last year, the founder and CEO of Telegram Pavel Durov branded Mobogram “potentially insecure” and warned against using it. He tweeted: “Mobogram is an outdated and potentially insecure fork of Telegram from Iran. I don’t advise to use it.”
The Iranian government executes more people, including women and children, per capita than any other country on Earth. And Jafarzadeh says the regime is “experimenting” with cyber warfare on its own people but could “apply these tactics” against western countries.
“The regime has turned these applications into a spying weapon. The Iranian regime is currently hard at work to test the success of these apps on the people of Iran first. If not confronted, its next victims will be the people of other nations,” he added.
Smartphone users in Iran have turned to apps like Mobogram after Telegram was temporarily blocked inside the country during anti-establishment protests last December. The majority of users in Iran use Telegram to communicate, instead of apps like Twitter or Facebook. Telegram has about 40 million monthly users in the country out of Iran’s roughly 45 million overall online users, according to Politico.
Durov has also said that Iranian government wanted him to help them use Telegram to spy on users, a request he refused to comply with, Gizmodo noted. Family members who live outside Iran will often use Mobogram and other Telegram spinoffs as a way to communicate with relatives who still live there.
The NCRI claims those users are likely victims of a mass surveillance project by the Iranian military, wherein state officials are using ‘malicious codes embedded in IRGC mobile apps to actively monitor and disrupt the communications of protesters and dissidents.’
‘With the recent uprising, the Iranian regime is now complementing its network surveillance with stateful endpoint (mobile device) monitoring of content, context and contacts to counter the expansion of the uprising and to avert more protests,’ the NCRI explained.
What’s more the NCRI claims that Mobogram is being distributed by a ‘homegrown marketplace,’ called Café Bazaar, that’s supervised by the IRGC. Café Bazaar is modeled after the Google Play Store and features tens of thousands of apps, according to the company’s website.
“It is the IRGC’s platform of choice to promote and distribute spyware enabled apps,” the NCRI claims.
In total, the NCRI believes the regime has developed about 100 apps that are embedded with the malicious spyware, including Mobogram, Hotgram, Wispi and other Telegram variations.