Altered Android application spreads a martyr's message

The rogue application for Android is politically rather than financially motivated

A popular Android application for Muslim users has been curiously hacked to commemorate the memory of a Tunisian produce vendor whose suicide kicked off anti-government protests in the country a year ago.

The application, called AlSalah, calculates prayer times and includes a compass. Thelegitimate version is found in the Android market. But a tampered version has shown up in forums dedicated to Middle Eastern issues, wrote Irfan Asrar, of Symantec.

That version contains code called "alArabiyyah" that works in the background unbeknownst to a user, he wrote. If installed, the code picks one link from a list of 18 URLs that contain identical tributes to Mohamed Bouazizi and sends it out by SMS to everyone in the victim's contact list.

About a year ago, Bouazizi was an unknown produce seller scraping together a meager living. He was harassed by government officials over his fruit and vegetable cart, and after being denied an audience with a local government official, set himself on fire.

Bouazizi became a symbol of Tunisian people's frustration with the government. He was visited in the hospital by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali shortly before he died in January.

Less than two weeks after Bouazizi's death, Ben Ali stepped down after widespread civil unrest. Tunisia's turmoil spread through the Middle East as part of the "Arab Spring" movement that saw governments in Egypt and Libya eventually fall.

The altered version of AlSalah doesn't appear to lead to any other malicious software. But it does have another interesting function. If the application detects that the phone is from Bahrain, it will try to download a PDF to the phone's SD card, Asrar wrote.

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

Although the altered application is not terribly harmful, Symantec's Norton Mobile Security product will detect it, which the company has dubbed "Android.Arspam."

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