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'Suspicious' Android wallpaper app nabs user data

Up to 4 million downloads

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An Android wallpaper application that collected data from users' phones and uploaded it to a site in China was downloaded "millions of times", according to mobile security firm Lookout.

Kevin MaHaffey, chief technology officer at Lookout, used Jackeey Wallpaper as an example of the wider risk faced by smartphone users during a presentation at the Black Hat security conference in Vegas on Wednesday.

Jackeey Wallpaper was uploaded to the Android Market, offering wallpaper themed around Star Wars, My Little Pony, and other popular themes. But according to Lookout, the application also collects a device’s phone number, subscriber identifier, and the currently entered voicemail number. This data was then uploaded to a server in China.

Though some press reports indicated the data was used or nefarious purposes, MaHaffey has now said in a blog post that Lookout cannot actually say that this is the case. "While this sort of data collection from a wallpaper application is certainly suspicious, there’s no evidence of malicious behavior," he writes. "There have been cases in the past on other mobile platforms where well-intentioned developers are simply over-zealous in their data gathering, without having malicious intent."

Imprecise download records from the Android Market suggest the app was downloaded anywhere between 1 million to 4 million times. Lookout ran across Jackeey Wallpaper as potentially suspicious during its App Genome Project, which is attempting to analyse how smartphone applications behave. Around half (47 per cent) of Android apps access third-party code, a behaviour repeated by 23 per cent of iPhone, according to Lookout. Third-party apps perform functions such as serve ads, for example.

John Hering, Lookout chief executive, said that Google and Apple were adequately policing their application stores. Nonetheless, problem apps may make it through screening, as the Jackeey Wallpaper incident demonstrates, and developers and end-users both need to be wary of potential problems, Lookout warns.

“Even good apps can be modified to turn bad after a lot of people download it,” MaHaffey said, Mobile Venture Beat reports. “Users absolutely have to pay attention to what they download. And developers have to be responsible about the data that they collect and how they use it.” ®

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