Future programmable mobile phones will spawn more virulent and potentially more dangerous computer worms than those seen on today's home computers, predict anti-virus researchers.
Speaking in New Scientist magazine, anti-virus experts at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Centre in New York, say that mobile phone designers will have to come up with ways to protect phones against infection from malicious code.
"These viruses could spread very quickly," says researcher David Chess. He believes malicious programs could rack up huge phones bills, delete records and even access a user's stored credit card information. The researchers suggest that to combat this threat, manufacturers might restrict access to memory as well as the interaction between different applications.
Nokia acknowledges the possibility of the threat and says it intends to take all necessary steps to combat it. "It depends on how development is going," says a spokesman for Nokia. "Since mobile phones are developing more like PCs it will be possible to do malicious things with them."
The company believes that making users aware of the risks is vital. "Security consciousness is number one," adds the spokesman. "Designing phones in such a way that users are aware of what they're doing is imperative." And while Nokia and other mobile phone manufacturers beef up security against the impending threat, anti-virus firms recognise the danger also.
"We believe we'll see these viruses in the future," says Eric Chien, chief researcher at Symantec's Anti-Virus Research Centre. "There is definitely a fine line between functionality and security."
Chien believes that there are three main factors limiting the appearance of viruses on mobile phones. He predicts that once the cost has been reduced, a dominant standard has been introduced and once mobiles devices increase in functionality, the new viruses will start to appear.
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