Thursday, December 29, 2005

Article: Viruses for cell phones

One problem we get to deal with on computers is viruses. Most of us use anti-virus software, and most people have at one time been infected by one of the thousands of viruses, at least when we use a PC. On cell phones however, it's not something people think about. Yet, a cell phone is a small computer, and as long as you can download programs and run them, then the risk of viruses is there. In fact, in 2005 we've started to see alarming news headlines about viruses making their way to cell phones, especially smart phones like Symbian and Windows Mobile devices.

Going past the headlines, the situation is no where near as bad as on a desktop computer. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, your cell phone isn't an open access to the Internet, always connected with a broadband connection. Also, your cell phone isn't running Internet Explorer, or another full featured web browser with all kind of scripting technologies that can be exploited. And lastly, computer viruses cannot infect cell phones, since they are very different platforms running a different operating system. So only new viruses written specifically for the device can infect it.

So how can a phone get infected? There are two known ways currently. The most common way is if a web site tricks you into downloading a program that claims to be something other than what it really is, and install it. For example, there's an application floating on some web sites that claims to be a pirated copy of F-Secure anti virus software for smart phones, but instead is a virus itself. So anyone downloading this application (or receiving it by MMS) and then installing it, thinking it's a cheap way to get protection, would be infected. The second way to be infected is by using flaws in communication protocols. Right now the only known way to do this is by using Bluetooth. So if your device supports Bluetooth, and is open to the world, then an attacker coming near you could upload a virus, or otherwise hijack your device by using the Bluetooth connection.

How likely is it that you could be infected? For the first method, it all depends on you. Basically if you never download any applications, then you can never be infected. The rule to follow here is the exact same rule as for computers, which is only download programs from known sources. There are sites that review applications before posting them, but if you download things from P2P networks or from unknown private web sites, then you could be at risk. For the second way, there is an easy way to protect yourself, and that's by turning your Bluetooth setting from "show to all" to "hidden", this way you must manually make a connection to the devices you want to pair with, and no one else will see your device when scanning nearby devices. Plus, it's really unlikely that an attacker is following you around less than 10 meters from you.

What could happen if you do get infected? If your computer gets infected by a virus, it's a long but relatively simple solution to reinstall the operating system and then restore your backup. Plus the vast majority of viruses for computers don't do anything bad to your data, they simply try to hijack the computer to send spam mail. On mobile devices however, it's another story. You can't restore the operating system since it's stored on the device only, and most viruses are very bad. Some will send expensive MMS messages, but the most common thing that can happen is that it will erase the entire flash drive, or modify the operating system to crash on booting. So the next time you turn your device on it will be completely unusable. In most cases, there is a code you can input during the booting phase that will format the device back to factory settings, and it will allow you to recover from most viruses, but you do need to know this code and you will lose all your data.

The final word is that mobile viruses do exist, they are a worry and they will be on the rise this coming year. However, it's relatively easy to prevent yourself from being infected, and anti virus companies are working on mobile versions of their anti virus software such as Trend Micro, F-Secure, Symantec and more. The same issues apply to these applications as with their PC companions, mainly that they run all the time so they use system resources, and they can cause some incompatibilities with other programs, so your mileage may vary.


At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

like your blog, got fine info for myself ...well, you are to be learned from :)


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