A discontinued Android game app has been modified with malware, so that anyone who finds and downloads an early version of Dog Wars inadvertently enables their phone to send out messages intended to promote animal rights, without their knowing.

The discovery was first reported by security firm Symantec, which makes it clear that the modified app is not available on legitimate channels like the Android Market or Amazon’s Appstore for Android. Dog Wars was removed from those following a public outcry over it being a game based on dog fighting, and is now traded elsewhere.

Hidden within the app is a Trojan that accesses the phone’s contact list and sends every one of them a text message that reads, “I take pleasure in hurting small animals, just thought you should know that.” In the U.S., the Trojan also sends a text intended to register the phone to receive the text alert service operated by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Semantec’s Irfan Asrar wrote in a post on the company’s blog.

Semantec has christened the Trojan “Android.Dogowar” and said there was no reason to think the malware had anything to do with PETA. Asrar wrote it was more likely the work of unrelated hacktivists, hackers motivated by a specific cause other than by greed, malice or mischief.

There are no clues that would alert a user not to download the infected app. Once installed, the display icon looks almost identical to the legitimate app, except that it says PETA rather than BETA (pictured). The Trojan code is injected as a package called “Dogbiet,” and it triggers a service called “Rabies” that sends out the texts.

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Image courtesy of Semantec