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iPad and smartphone rootkits demo'd by boffins

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Computing boffins say they have demonstrated rootkits which can be used to turn your smartphone or "upcoming tablet computer" into a remotely-activated bugging or tracking system.

“Smart phones are essentially becoming regular computers,” says Vinod Ganapathy, computing prof at Rutgers uni in New Jersey. “They run the same class of operating systems as desktop and laptop computers, so they are just as vulnerable to attack by malware.”

Ganapathy and his colleagues developed various rootkits for demonstration purposes, choosing that class of malware because - they say - virtual machine monitors necessary to detect rootkits can't yet be run on portable devices.

According to the boffins:

Rootkit attacks on smart phones or upcoming tablet computers could be more devastating because smart phone owners tend to carry their phones with them all the time. This creates opportunities for potential attackers to eavesdrop, extract personal information from phone directories, or just pinpoint a user’s whereabouts by querying the phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. Smart phones also have new ways for malware to enter the system, such as through a Bluetooth radio channel or via text message.

“What we’re doing today is raising a warning flag,” said Ganapathy's fellow-prof Liviu Iftode. “We’re showing that people with general computer proficiency can create rootkit malware for smart phones. The next step is to work on defenses.”

The researchers demonstrated means whereby a badhat could send an invisible text message to an undetectably-rootkitted phone, causing it to place a call out - for instance during a meeting - and so allow the malware operator to listen in to conversations around it. Likewise it was possible to query the phone's GPS so as to locate or track its owner.

It was also possible to remotely switch on multiple power-hog capabilities of the phone - for instance WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth all at once - and so drain its battery without the owner noticing.

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