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8/17/2010
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Spyware Hidden In Android Snake Tap Game

Free app is paired with GPS Spy, software that monitors a targeted device's location.

Spyware Hidden In Android Snake Tap Game
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Spyware Hidden In Android Snake Tap Game
At first glance, the Android Market game Tap Snake appears to be a free, touchscreen clone of the popular "snake" computer game that dates from the 1970s -- and it is. But that's not all.

"It turns out to be a client for a commercial spying application called GPS Spy," according to Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure.

One giveaway that Tap Snake isn't just a game is that it accesses GPS services. Another is that even if a user attempts to disable the game, it still runs in the background.

According to the developer's description, tracking a phone with GPS Spy requires installing Tap Snake on the target phone and registering an e-mail address in the application, which generates a unique code. Input this code and the related e-mail into GPS Spy, and you can see a trace of the target phone's location for 24 hours, in 15-minute increments.

That's because every 15 minutes, Snake Tap will transmit its location "to an application running on Google's free App Engine service," according to Symantec's Security Response blog. "The silver lining here is that for the application to really be used maliciously, an attacker would need to have access to the phone to install the program."

Alternately, an attacker could trick someone into installing the program as well as accepting the application's requests to use specific APIs. "This would probably require a dash of social engineering as well -- something like 'Hey, let me show you this cool game,'" said Symantec. "Think cheating spouses or keeping tabs on children."

Of course, plenty of applications already provide such functionality, and clearly disclose what they do. In contrast, Snake Tap does not, which is why it's earning a "Trojan application" classification from antivirus providers.

"We expect Google to remove Tap Snake from Android Market soon," said F-Secure's Hypponen. It remains to be seen, however, whether Google might also trigger an Android-wide remote application removal.

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