Security researchers are calling out the recent spread of new version of the "Sexy View" smartphone worm as having the possibility of representing one of the world's first mobile botnet attacks.
Over the last week the attack which is aimed at Symbian smartphones -- long a leading edge target in the mobile malware world, with most users of the OS living outside of the U.S. -- has been getting an increasing amount of ink in research blogs and trade pubs as people keep their eyes trained on the threat, which first surfaced as far back as February 2009.
The newest iteration the attack, which has morphed its name into Sexy Space based on the adult themed social engineering ploys it is utilizing, attempts to spread via SMS spam texts, and appears to be taking on more botnet-like behavior patterns, experts at a number of companies including AV giants Symantec and Trend Micro are reporting.
The attack is cloaked as a genuine Symbian phone application but instead delivers a Trojan infection that gathers device and device user information and transmits that data out to involved Web sites. The attack spreads by forwarding itself to contacts loaded into the memory of infected devices.
The new version, dubbed SymbOS.Exy.C. by Symantec has the most botnet-esque behvior patterns yet seen in a mobile attack campaign, researchers with the company noted.
"What this threat currently does -- gather information from the phone and send it to predetermined addresses in addition to spamming other phones (SMS) and propagating -- is not solely what interests us. A more interesting question to ask is: what could future versions of this threat potentially do using these trusted privileges? Could this be the birth of the SMS Botnet?," Symantec Researcher Irfan Asrar theorized in a recent blog post.
"Experts predicted that there would be a rise in the number of mobile threats in 2009 and it seems the creators of SymbOS.Exy.A and SymbOS.Exy.B are out to prove the predication right," Asrar said.
However, perhaps an even bigger concern related to the Sexy View/Sexy Space campaign is that it has somehow been able to acquire signed application status, defeating the third party applications approval process designed specifically to keep nefarious applications from finding their way onto mobile devices, researchers have noted.
"The signing process, undertaken by the Symbian Foundation itself, is supposed to ferret out instances like this, but somehow this slipped through. It may well be a coincidence, but it does not reinforce confidence in the signing system," Trend Micro Researcher Jonathan Leopando highlighted in a blog on the company's Web site.
It would appear that attackers are finally spending the time and effort to directly target systems like application signing that have traditionally made it less attractive for them to focus their resources on mobile devices.
The attack highlights the fact that end users must increasingly view the features and content appearing on their handheld devices with the same level of wariness we've long become accustomed to in the world of PCs.
Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to [email protected].