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Android Trojan spams tribute to Arab Spring martyr

At least it doesn't completely pwn your phone

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Hacktivists have released a manipulated version of a popular Android app to commemorate a Tunisian man whose suicide triggered anti-government protests in his country a year ago.

Street fruit'n'veg vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, set himself on fire after local government officials refused to meet him and discuss his grievances. Bouazizi's self-immolation propelled Tunisians' general frustration with their politicians into a wave of protests that forced out President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in early January. Ben Ali was the first Middle East dictator to be turfed out of office by the "Arab Spring" protest movement that spread to Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Altered versions of popular Android app Al Salah, which calculates prayer times and orientates believers towards Mecca, have begun appearing on forums dedicated to Middle Eastern issues. The Trojanised builds of the software sends links to a tribute to Bouazizi as SMS messages to everyone on the contact list of an infected phone. This process occurs silently, in the background, leaving victims none the wiser that anything has happened and certainly not asking for permission to spread the "martyr's message".

Analysis of the twiddled app by Symantec suggests it doesn't do anything especially malign. Curiously, if an infected phone is located in Bahrain, the application attempts to download a PDF file onto a smartphone's SD card.

"The PDF file was examined and does not contain any malicious code or exploits," writes Symantec's Irfan Asrar. "The report itself is a fact-finding inquiry by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry on allegations of human rights violations.

"There has been a lot of discussion regarding the impact of the internet, social media, and even the availability of cheap cell phones on the uprisings in the Middle East. In a way, this threat is a testament to the rise of Hacktisivm 2.0."

Symantec's Norton Mobile Security detects the threat as Android-Arspam.

Self-immolation as a form of extreme political protest is a centuries-old tradition in some cultures. A number of Buddhist monks, including most famously Thich Quang Duc, set fire to themselves as a protest against the persecution of Buddhists under the Roman Catholic administration of South Vietnam. The practice spread to the former Soviet bloc, with the self-immolation of Czech student Jan Palach, and more recently to the Middle East and North Africa. Bouazizi's death inspired a number of copycat protests both in Tunisia and Egypt and elsewhere. ®

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