I can think of many uses for this kind of malware. But the fact is, it is malware. Homegrown malware like most wink wink and likely with your tax dollar wink wink. No telling how many unsuspecting Americans have downloaded this or similar apps, because apps are cool and if you have more apps than your friends, you’re the coolest.
PlaceRaider created by the Naval Warfare Surface Center in Crane, Indiana likely with help from Cornell University, or maybe the other way around, is an app that runs in the background of unsuspecting smartphone users. Currently it runs on Android, but the researchers say the concept applies to iOS and Windows Phone as well. Have you installed a ‘free camera app’ recently ?
From Cornell University Library –
This paper introduces a novel visual malware called PlaceRaider, which allows remote attackers to engage in remote reconnaissance and what we call virtual theft. Through completely opportunistic use of the camera on the phone and other sensors, PlaceRaider constructs rich, three dimensional models of indoor environments. Remote burglars can thus download the physical space, study the environment carefully, and steal virtual objects from the environment (such as financial documents, information on computer monitors, and personally identifiable information).
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1209.5982: PlaceRaider: Virtual Theft in Physical Spaces with Smartphones
The app follows up on other nefarious tools created by researchers.
The Soundminer malware steals data in a way that is unlikely to be detected by either a user or antivirus software was designed to listen in on phone conversations and use speech recognition to decode credit card and PIN details that users might mention when calling their bank, for example. It also was designed to recognize and decode tones heard when keys are pressed.
Also, a team of researchers at Georgia Tech created pirate software that used a smartphone accelerometer to steal keystrokes from a nearby keyboard.