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Smartphone app botnet experiment blows up a storm

WeatherFist shows phone vulnerability, devs claim

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Security researchers fooled nearly 8,000 iPhone and Android users into joining a mobile smartphone "botnet" under the guise of installing an apparently innocuous weather app.

Derek Brown and Daniel Tijerina of TippingPoint's Digital Vaccine Group carried out the exercise in the run-up to a presentation at last week's RSA Conference as an illustration of how easily social engineering tricks developed on the web and with PCs might be applied to internet-enabled smartphones. The duo's WeatherFist app obtained users' GPS coordinates and telephone numbers before providing local weather forecasts.

The application was not published on either the official iPhone or Android application stores, but still attracted hundreds of takers of (presumably jailbroken) iPhones and other smartphones via third party app marketplaces, such as Cydia and SlideME (app T&Cs via Google cache here).

The researchers said they have created - but not distributed - a malicious version of the app capable of harvesting data, posting fake updates on social networking sites and sending spam.

The experiment received positive write-ups by New Scientist and Dark Reading. However other security firms have questioned the value of the exercise. Sophos, for example, argues that the faux malware created by the ethical hackers does nothing not already attempted by the real-life cybercrooks behind the Duh worm, which spread on jailbroken iPhones in the Netherlands last November. ®

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