Carrier IQ detection tool converted to premium SMS Trojan

Android malware creators exploit the Carrier IQ controversy to distribute a premium SMS Trojan

Android malware writers are taking advantage of the controversy surrounding Carrier IQ's smartphone tracking software in order to distribute a premium SMS Trojan, security researchers from Symantec warn.

"Android.Qicsomos is a modified version of an open source project meant to detect Carrier IQ on a device, with additional code to dial a premium SMS number," said Symantec malware analyst Irfan Asrar in a blog post on Tuesday.

The Carrier IQ controversy began in November 2011, when security researcher Trevor Eckhart published a detailed analysis of a monitoring agent developed by the company and preloaded by many mobile carriers on devices sold to customers.

The Carrier IQ software is designed to collect usage data from smartphone devices in order to provide carriers with statistics about dropped calls, service interruptions, battery usage and similar information.

However, Eckhart claimed that the software can also be used for more privacy-intrusive purposes, leading some users to look for ways to remove it from their devices.

The premium SMS Trojan detected by Symantec masquerades as a tool for detecting the presence of the Carrier IQ agent, which some people are considering a rootkit, a surreptitious application with low-level system access.

The version analyzed by the security vendor's researchers was localized in French and its icon was similar to the logo used by Orange, one of Europe's largest telecom operators.

The Trojan does not appear to be spread from the Android Market, so distribution is most likely done through some form of spam messages that claim to originate from mobile operators, Asrar said.

Upon installation, the rogue software displays a window that contains some information about the device and claims that the Carrier IQ rootkit was not found. Users are then presented with a button to uninstall the app.

However, when this button is pressed, the Trojan sends an unauthorized SMS message to a premium-rate number registered by the malware's creators, earning them money in the process.

An interesting aspect of this Trojan is that its code is signed with a certificate obtained from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). While the majority of manufacturer-supplied Android builds don't trust this certificate by default, some older community-built versions might. Because the code is signed with a trusted certificate, users of such unofficial versions might not even see the permissions notification prompt when the Trojan is installed.

Some users might be understandably skeptical of the bleak predictions regarding mobile threats that were put forth in recent months by security vendors. "But to any skeptics out there, I can assure you some concerns, such as this threat, are not without merit," Asrar said.

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Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
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