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A Russian military contractor tied to 2016 U.S. election interference is behind a spate of mobile phone surveillance programs, researchers at Lookout mobile security have determined.

Driving the news: The mobile spyware, dubbed Monokle, was disguised as several different Android apps — ranging from pornography to Google. Monokle may have been in use since 2015.

The targets: Some of the fake apps were intended for highly specialized audiences, which may give a sense of some of the intended targets.

  • A fake version of “UzbekChat” appears to be intended for people in or communicating with Uzbekistan.
  • A fake program called "Ahrar Maps" appears to be targeted at the Ahrar al-Sham militant group in Syria.
  • A fake app titled "Caucas" appears to target the Caucasus region.

The attacker: Lookout says Monokle uses the same private internet infrastructure as an antivirus product developed by Special Technology Centre, Ltd. (STC), a Russian military contractor sanctioned by the Obama administration for its role in 2016 election tampering.

  • Two developers' names and the name "Monokle" are referenced in the code for Monokle.
  • There is evidence that an iOS version is being developed.

Unique features: Monokle is able to change security certificates on cellphones, giving STC the ability to alter data being sent to and from the phone.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.
3 hours ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

4 hours ago - World

European countries extend lockdowns

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 throat swab sample at the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty

Recent spikes in COVID-19 infections across Europe have led authorities to extend restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

Why it matters: "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.