Hackers are aiming for users of Google's Android mobile operating system with a malicious application that harvests personal information and sends it to a remote server.
The malware, which has been named "Geinimi", appears to be the first one that has botnet-like capabilities targeted at the Android platform, said Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer for Lookout Mobile Security, which develops mobile security software.
Geinimi appears to target Chinese-speaking users of Android, and Lookout was tipped off to Geinimi after a user wrote a post concerned about it on a forum, Mahaffey said.
Lookout researchers, which posted a writeup on Geinimi, have found that it has been wrapped into legitimate free and paid games for Android users with those games' developers unaware their applications are being used as a lure.
"We have been in touch with developers to let them know," Mahaffey said.
Those tampered applications are appearing on third-party websites offering Android applications that have not been vetted for security. Some of those programs have appeared to be downloaded thousands of times.
The company is still analysing Geinimi, and it isn't clear what its creators are aiming to do with a victim's phone. But several aspects of the malware have already raised concern.
The malware communicates with a central command-and-control server. The server can issue commands to a phone remotely, such as to download or uninstall software. The user of the Android phone is prompted and must approve either action, but it still raises concern, Mahaffey said.
"It might be a vector to install other potentially malicious applications," he said.
Geinimi also sends the Android device's location and other hardware identifiers, such as the device's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number and SIM card information, to a remote server every five minutes. It can also send a list of the Android device's installed applications. The malware can contact up to 10 domain names that are used to upload the information to the remote server.
It is Geinimi's ability to contact multiple domains and obtain instructions from a command-and-control server that Lookout decided to say it has botnet-like capabilities, Mahaffey said.
Still, Geinimi has not revealed either a clear profit motive or decisive data-theft motivation, although Lookout is continuing its analysis. "It could be anything from a very invasive advertising network up to a full-blown attempt to create a botnet," Mahaffey said.