Reactionary hacktivists have brewed up a strain of Android malware targeted against the Alsharif campaign, which encourages Saudi Arabian women to defy their country's ban on female drivers.
Women have long been effectively banned from driving in the Middle Eastern kingdom, thanks to local interpretations of Islamic customs not shared elsewhere in the Muslim world. There is no law on women driving, as such, but anybody who wants to drive in the country needs to obtain a local driving licence – and women are not allowed to take the test.*
A grassroots movement, dubbed the Oct 26th Driving Campaign, is fighting for the right for women to drive in Saudi Arabia. Local police have arrested women who allegedly drove around the country before uploading videos of their activities to YouTube.
In addition, the driving campaign website has been under constant attack - including defacements - from forces who would wish to see the ban kept in place.
This turn of events is perhaps not too surprising given that Saudi Arabia is a "region of the world where the penalty for hacking a website is less than the penalty for female found defying the ban on driving a vehicle," according to mobile security researcher Irfan Asrar.
More recently, hackers who share the same patriarchal point of view have upped their attempts to mess with the car-driving-for-women movement by cooking up an Android trojan.
The malware, dubbed Hackdrive, comes disguised as an Android app to support the campaign, even featuring the icon that has come to symbolise the movement of the Oct 26th Driving Campaign - a pink car. In reality, the app is designed to spew the same hate-filled propaganda that accompanied the earlier defacement campaign, Asrar reports.
"Firstly, audio is jammed by the app repeatedly playing the audio from the YouTube video hit “No woman, no drive”[embedded below for our readers' delight], making it impossible to listen to anything else on the device or carry out a phone conversation," he writes.
"Additionally, a message in Arabic text is displayed similar to the defacement messages used on the hacked website."
Routines in the malware contain the ability to scour through the contact database of compromised smartphones, harvesting names and numbers before uploading the information to a remote server. However the functionality is not turned on, something that might change with possible follow-up versions of the malware.
Asrar - whose write-up of the threat, complete with screenshots, can be found in a guest post on security researcher Graham Cluley's blog - writes that it would be a mistake to interpret the malware as a childish prank.
"On the surface the antics used in the app and the website defacing may seem juvenile. But make no mistake, this is hate and prejudice manifested into an Android app," he concludes. ®
*At the time your correspondent, then a young trainee telecoms engineer, spent five months on secondment to Bahrain in the late '80s, the Saudi driving test purportedly involved driving five metres forward and five metres in reverse – together with the payment of a modest bribe (baksheesh). It's unclear how far things have moved along in the 25+ years since.