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Trojan row over spouse monitoring software

FlexiSPY

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A commercial product that records information about an individual's mobile phone calls and SMS messages before sending them to a remote server has been labeled as malware by security researchers. FlexiSPY is described by Finnish anti-virus firm F-Secure as the first Symbian Trojan spy. The firm behind FlexiSPY, Thai-based Vervata, denies this accusation.

Vervata markets the software as a tool for trapping errant partners. FlexiSPY Light, which costs $49.95, is sold as an "activity monitoring" utility. Vervata goes on to describe the software as "the world's first spy application designed and built exclusively for the mobile phone" that is "absolutely undetectable by the user". It promises the development of a more powerful version of the program that relays conversations in real time as well as versions of FlexiSPY that work on BlackBerry and Microsoft Pocket PC-powered mobile devices.

In a statement, Vervata said that F-secure was incorrect in labeling its software as a Trojan. "FlexiSPY is not a Trojan, nor a virus and does not require the purchase of F-Secure Mobile Anti-virus products to remove it. An uninstall option is provided for the user, so the application can be removed at any time. Configuration settings are also available to allow frequency of connections, thereby allowing the user to minimise network connections to once daily if required."

Vervata points out that its software is incapable of spreading automatically. "FlexiSPY is activity monitoring software that needs to be consciously installed by a human, who knows exactly what the software does. It does not self replicate, it does not pretend to be something it is not, and it always requires conscious human action for installation.

"Like any other monitoring software there may be a possibility for misuse, but there is nothing inherent in FlexiSPY that makes it illegal or malicious. F-Secure's comments categorising FlexiSPY as a Trojan are completely incorrect," it added.

Contrary to Vervata's claims that FlexiSPY is a useful tool for catching cheaters, F-Secure argues that because the application installs itself without any kind of indication as to what it is and hides from a phone's user, then it ought to be treated as malicious code. F-Secure points out that spying on the private conversations of other people is illegal in most countries. The storage of personal information on Vervata's servers also gives cause for concern.

F-Secure warns that hackers might use the FlexiSPY software to develop malware. "The application [FlexiSPY] could easily be used by malware installing it as part of its payload, or a hacker could simply send it to a victim over Bluetooth and trust that there are enough curious people to install it," Jarno Niemela, a researcher at F-Secure's Labs, writes.

F-Secure has added detection for FlexiSPY into its Mobile Anti-Virus software so that any user who has a phone that has been "infected" with FlexiSPY will get a warning that someone is spying on them. ®

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