Rick Astley iPhone worm sparks global debate

By Megan Levy
Updated November 5 2012 - 12:25pm, first published November 10 2009 - 1:15pm
Rick Astley, left, and Ashley Towns.

A Wollongong student's high-tech stunt has catapulted him to international attention after he released a worm infecting iPhones with the face of 80s crooner Rick Astley.Ashley Towns, 21, has become a technological celebrity after news of his Ikee worm, believed to be the first to infect the popular Apple handset, spread like wildfire across the internet.The BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post are among the hundreds of news organisations to have reported the story and its ramifications for the iPhone-owning population.

  • VIDEO: Re-live the 80s classic Never Gonna Give You UpThe Ikee worm replaces the infected iPhone's wallpaper with an image of Astley and the slogan "Ikee is never gonna give you up" - a reference to the English singer-songwriter's 1987 hit single Never Gonna Give You Up.The song has become a well-known internet joke called rickrolling, where users are tricked into clicking links that redirect them to Astley's YouTube video.Mr Towns said he had no particular vendetta against Apple, and had created the virus out of curiosity and boredom.He even posted this explanation inside the code: "Why?: Boredom, because i found it so stupid the fact that on my initial scan of my 3G optus range i found 27 hosts running SSH daemons, i could access 26 of them with root:alpine. Doesn't anyone RTFM anymore?"The virus only works on unlocked or 'jailbroken' iPhones, but has ignited fierce debate about whether it will be the precursor to more malicious attacks in the future.Graham Cluley, a blogger for the internet security firm Sophos, said the release of the worm could encourage other copycat worms."Accessing someone else's computing device and changing their data without permission is an offence in many countries - and just as with graffiti there is a cost involved in cleaning-up affected iPhones," Cluley wrote."Other inquisitive hackers may also be tempted to experiment once they read about the world's first iPhone worm. Furthermore, a more malicious hacker could take the code written by ikee and adapt it to have a more sinister payload."Mr Towns said, while his worm was intended as a joke, a more malicious worm could have "done anything - read your SMSes, go through your emails, view your contacts, photos - anything"."I really am sorry to anyone that I have angered, this was meant to be harmless and a bit of a wake-up message," he said.Towns revealed himself as the worm's author on Twitter under the name Ikeeex, and later seemed surprised by the amount of attention his worm was creating.
  • Get the latest Wollongong news in your inbox

    Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

    We care about the protection of your data. Read our Privacy Policy.