Mobile virus no real threat for now

The lack of standards in mobile operating systems makes it difficult for mobile viruses to have a widespread impact, say industry observers.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Despite the emergence of a proof-of-concept virus that can attack both PCs and handhelds, businesses do not yet have much cause to worry about mobile viruses, say market observers.

Viruses require a uniform infrastructure to effectively infect targeted devices, noted Jukka Riivari, CEO and president of Meridea, which specializes in mobile banking software.

But not all mobile phones are alike, and the "complexities" make it hard for mobile viruses to be a significant threat, he added.

McAfee's Asia-Pacific vice president of field marketing and integrated solution sales Ashley Wearne, agreed, noting that unlike PCs, there are "no standards" in mobile phone operating systems.

However, he said that this also translates to greater difficulty in terms of protection, as "solutions must be tailored to each different system".

Sophos, which claimed that mobile viruses were overhyped, maintained there is not much of a threat today.

Sophos' Asia-Pacific managing director Rob Forsyth, said: "Our software currently protects PDAs (personal digital assistants) when they sync with corporate networks, which is the main existing threat vector."

While still negligible compared to the flood of malware that have been infecting PCs, the number of mobile virus attacks has been growing.

The first known case of a malware infecting a PDA via a PC made headlines earlier this month. The virus is for now a proof-of-concept, and not known to pose any real risk to users.

Last September, a Trojan that attacked Symbian-based phones had the capabilities to infect PCs as well.

According to McAfee, as well as fellow security vendors Sophos and Symantec, solutions designed to protect mobile viruses are effective against known threats today. Symantec's Singapore-based senior systems engineer, Ooi Szu-Khiam, said these can take the form of an antivirus, firewall or a combination of both.

McAfee noted that there also needs to be more user education. The company is currently reaching out to telcos around the world to discuss what more can be done to better protect both the networks and handsets.

"Some will make [such security offerings] available as an add-on service, some will provide security products for purchase, and some will offer it free to valuable customers," Wearne said.

When contacted, a spokesperson from FedEx Express told ZDNet Asia that the logistics company has in place "comprehensive" prevention and contingency plans to deal with threats to its IT infrastructure, including mobile devices.

FedEx is a user of Bluetooth-enabled devices, having announced plans to equip its couriers with 50,000 wireless devices globally by 2008. About 2,500 of these couriers are located in the Asia-Pacific region.

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