November 10, 2009.
iPhones across Australia lit up with the face of '80s crooner Rick Astley this week as a Wollongong TAFE student made international headlines for releasing the first virus to infect the popular smartphone platform.
The virus is able to reset the phone wallpaper to display an image of Astley (a practice known as rickrolling) on unlocked or “jailbroken” iPhones.
These phones are unlocked so users can use non-Apple applications or service providers, and only those who had failed to reset default security passwords were affected.
Ashley Towns, the 21-year-old Australian who has taken credit for the high-tech stunt, wrote on his Twitter page yesterday that he created the virus to raise awareness of security issues related to iPhone passwords.
The student, who lives in Wollongong with his family, told Computerworld that he had no particular vendetta against Apple, and had created the virus out of curiosity and boredom.
"I had just formatted my iPhone and it told me to set the password in bold, big letters and I wondered how many people have actually done that," he said.
The virus places Astley's image into smartphones' iPhone wallpaper with the words "Ikee is never gonna give you up".
Towns tweets under the name ikeeex and an explanation embedded into the virus source code reads: “people are stupid, and this is to prove it so RTFM. Its not that hards [sic] guys. But hey who cares, its only your bank details at stake.”
In spite of claims by Towns that the worm was easy to remove, a number of iPhone users on the Whirlpool forum complained about its effects, the quantity of bandwidth it may have used, and the possibility of excess data charges.
“Perhaps I discover a way to break into your house. Does that make it acceptable for me to break in, mess the place up, then leave? Did I just do you a service by doing that, exposing the security flaw in the process? No. That would be a ridiculous claim to make,” Adamiam said.
Although the exact number of iPhone users affected by the virus is not known, it could have spread to hundreds of handsets in Australia, said Paul Ducklin, head of technology at Sophos Asia Pacific.
An online poll run by Sophos in response to the incident revealed that 75 per cent of the 721 respondents believed the worm author had done “iPhone users a favour”.
Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, said it was a “depressing notion that most people think that doing harm and breaking computer crime laws is a good thing”.
He said every victim of the virus first had to take steps to repair the damage caused by the worm and restore their phone to normal use, and then pay for a potentially large data bill at the end of the month.
“But what's worst of all is that the code for the worm is now available for anyone to download. The genie is let out of the bottle - and anyone could write a more dangerous version of the worm which could have a much more dangerous payload. My prediction is that we may see more attacks like this in the future," he said.
The virus followed hot on the trail of a similar attack last week in the Netherlands where a Dutch hacker took over similarly vulnerable iPhones and demanded a small fee to release their data.
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