Message exploit knocks out GSM mobile phones

Smart message uncovered that can attack mobile phones

An exploit capable of disabling certain Nokia phones was demonstrated by Norway-based WAP company Web2Wap Tuesday.

The exploit -- which Web2Wap discoverd by chance -- takes the form of a special type of SMS (Short Messaging Service) called a Smart Message, which is usually used to send a new ring tone or logo to a phone. This particular message, however, disables all the buttons on the attacked phone.

Nokia claims that the exploit will only affect a phone until it automatically resets itself 30 or 40 seconds later, although Web2WAP says the only way it has found to reverse the effect is to remove the phone's battery.

"It happened by accident. We were testing applications when suddenly something happened," says a Web2WAP spokesman. "It's a very special message and it would be nearly impossible for anyone else to come up with it."

"This is an eye opener," comments Rolf Rennome, European product manager for antivirus company Trend Micro. "You can see people becoming aware of security problems on phones and we'll have to see how far it spreads."

The exploit does not represent a virus because it cannot propagate itself. Nokia reports that the problem affects only a small number of unspecified models.

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