Hacktivist Trojan Targets 'Dog Wars' Android Game

Researchers at Symantec Security Response discovered a Trojan code planted in an older version of the Dog Wars Android app, the beta version .981, a controversial dog fighting game that elicited a firestorm of criticism from animal rights activists who claimed it glorified animal cruelty.

During the Android Trojan attack -- a threat that Symantec researchers labeled Android.Dogowar -- users are asked to grant permission to install an app on their phone that purports to be the game Dog Wars. Once installed, the display icon of the bogus Dog Wars app bundled with the Trojan appears almost identical to that of the legitimate app. However, one small difference is that the icon of the malicious app reads PETA instead of BETA.

The Trojan code is then injected as a package called Dogbite. Once the infected device starts up, a service called, “Rabies” launches in the background. As the Rabies service is executed, it the sends out a text message to everyone on the contact list of the user's phone that read “I take pleasure in hurting small animals, just thought you should know that.”

The attack culminates by sending an SMS message to 73822 with the word “text,” which is an attempt to sign up the compromised device to a text/alert service operated by PETA.

Sponsored post

However, Kevin Haley, director with Symantec Security Response said that the malware was likely not sourced to or actually affiliated with the PETA animal rights organization .

Thus far, the Trojan doesn’t appear to conduct any data-stealing activities. Instead, security experts contend that the malware was designed to garner public support and raise awareness for a cause.

“It seems more the application or Trojan was created to do a form of public shaming,” Haley said. “It’s more for public consumption. They’re not trying to hide that they’re doing anything here. They’re being noisy on purpose. You could say this is hacktivism. Their cause is different--they’re trying to send a message.”

The game Dog Wars, available on the Android Marketplace, was the source of controversy earlier this year when it pitted virtual dogs against each other in simulated deadly fights. Developed by Kage Games, the game enables users to raise and train digital fight dogs to spar against each other with the aim of winning virtual prize money.

But digital or no, the game did not sit well with animal lovers and activists, including Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick who publicly spoke out that game perpetuates violence and animal cruelty. Perhaps ironically, Vick has served jail time for illegal dogfighting.

Thus far, Haley said that the fake Dog Wars Android app is the second piece of malware Symantec researchers have seen designed for the sole purpose of “hacktivism,” or bringing attention to a cause via public humiliation. A similar piece of malware spread via a BitTorrent file sharing site and publicly embarrassed users for not downloading the legitimate application, he said.

However, Haley said that he anticipates an uptick of mobile malware being used for hacktivism in order to promote political and social causes and agendas in the near future, because of its effectiveness at reachign users.

“In general hacktivism has been effective in terms of getting their name in the paper. The ultimate goal of hacktivism is really to draw attention, and it’s been very effective,” he said. “More of this malware will be seen down the road. Success breeds more success in this world. The fact that is that it’s successful, that it’s gotten awareness because it’s so clever. That will bring more attention to their cause.”