Political viruses attack phones [telecom]

Political viruses attack phones Dylan Welch January 2, 2012

IF YOU got a new smartphone for Christmas, beware - you may be a button-press away from becoming an unwitting participant in this century's great democratic movement.

In the latest addition to a growing list of online viruses being used for political ends, dozens of people in the Middle East have had their phones hacked in connection with the wave of revolutionary protests that spread throughout the Middle East in 2011.

The malicious software is hidden inside a popular Islamic compass application called alArabiyyah, which helps Muslims know in which direction to pray towards Mecca. The app is only used for smartphones using Google's Android software.

The virus sends out a text message containing a link to a forum that pays tribute to Mohamed Bouazizi, the man credited with sparking the Arab Spring.

However, the chances of an Australian being hacked in this case are small. Not only must one be a Muslim, a fan of the online compass and own an Android phone, one should preferably be a citizen of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

In fact the malware seems to have failed largely in its ambition of spreading its democratic message. When online security company Symantec discovered the malware last month, it found fewer than 50 cases of infection worldwide.

But the hacking does point towards a growing global trend of merging online hacking with often radical or liberal political beliefs.

After the alArabiyyah app is installed, its malicious code sends out a text message to every contact in the phone.

The text message contains a link to an online forum that pays tribute to the man credited with sparking the Arab Spring, Mohamed Bouazizi.

Mr Bouazizi was a Tunisian street vendor who died after setting himself alight as part of a protest against government harassment.

His act of defiance emboldened a nascent opposition in his country and, eventually, elsewhere in the Middle East.

Uniquely, the software also examines the phone's sim card and whether it was purchased in Bahrain, one of the countries that experienced riots and protests in 2011.

If the phone is from Bahrain, it attempts to download a report on the Bahraini protests released last month that found the government may have breached international human rights law and its own constitution in suppressing the protests.

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