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Android app secretly uploads GPS data, warns Symantec

Like a Tapsnake in the grass

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Researchers from anti-virus provider Symantec have outted a gaming application in Google's Android Market that tracks users' whereabouts so they can be secretly monitored in real-time.

The free app is known as Tapsnake, which bills itself as an Android variation of a video game that has been around for three decades. What the description doesn't say is that every 15 minutes, the app uploads the user's GPS coordinates to a server that can be monitored by people running a separate $4.99 app known as GPS Spy, which is made by the same developer shop.

“GPS Spy then downloads the data and uses this service to conveniently display it as location points in Google Maps,” the Symantec advisory warns. “This can give a pretty startling run-down of where someone carrying the phone has been.”

Tapsnake has been downloaded from 1,000 to 5,000 times, while GPS Spy has 100 to 500 downloads. The discovery comes on the heels of a suspicious Android Wallpaper app that was downloaded millions of times and what is believed to be the platform's first SMS trojan in the wild.

The researchers note that an attacker would have to have physical access to the Android phone of the person he is stalking, since account credentials must be typed into the handset running Tapsnake. The Android OS also prominently notifies users installing apps about the types of resources that will be accessed, so marks who install Tapsnake should have some reason to be suspicious if they're paying attention.

But Symantec has gone ahead and classified the app as malicious, mainly because its snoop features aren't disclosed. The researchers also dinged the app for continuing to run in the background even when a user attempts to kill the app.

Representatives from Maxicom.net, the company credited with developing Tapsnake, didn't respond to a request for comment. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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