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New smartphone security threat identified

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Rutgers University researchers say they have identified an old computer security threat that can attack new generations of smartphones.

The researchers, led by Professor Liviu Iftode and Assistant Professor Vinod Ganapathy, said smartphones are essentially becoming regular computers. "They run the same class of operating systems as desktop and laptop computers, so they are just as vulnerable to attack by malicious software, or 'malware.'"

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The scientists studied a nefarious type of malware known as "rootkits." Unlike viruses, rootkits attack a computer's operating system, and the researchers said such an attack could be devastating because smartphone owners tend to carry their phones with them all the time.

That, the researchers said, creates opportunities for attackers to eavesdrop, extract personal information from phone directories or even pinpoint a user's whereabouts by querying the phone's Global Positioning System. In addition, smartphones also have new ways for malware to enter the system, such as through a Bluetooth device or text message.

"What we're doing today is raising a warning flag," Iftode said. "We're showing that people with general computer proficiency can create rootkit malware for smartphones. The next step is to work on defenses."

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The research that included Jeffrey Bickford, Ryan O'Hare and Arati Baliga was presented this week in Annapolis, Md., during the International Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications.

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