Siemens handsets vulnerable to SMS attack

Unusual, to say the least...
Written by Ben Charny, Contributor

Unusual, to say the least...

A text message is threatening to cripple some Siemens phones available across Europe. A particular SMS message, among the one billion sent each day on the continent, can freeze or completely disable two models from the German handset maker, spokesman Jacob Rice said on Tuesday at the CTIA trade show taking place in New Orleans. The dangerous messages contain a single word, taken from the phone's language menu, surrounded by quote marks and preceded by an asterisk, such as "*English" or "*Deutsch", Siemens said. Normally such warnings are dismissed as scare stories because, although as phones get more complex their software contains more bugs, viruses and SMS-communicated malware are extremely rare. However, in this case the warning is coming from Siemens itself. Opening the short text message on a Siemens 35 series phone completely disables it, Rice said. Siemens 45 series phones are less impacted and can be resuscitated after about two minutes of work, Rice said. Both phones are sold only in Europe. The phones are not the victim of a denial of service attack, as suggested by some participating in an email string on Bugtraq, a popular security email list, Rice said. "It's just not possible," Rice said. Denial of service attacks are very rare phones. There has been only one known case in the past two years, when an email virus sent to Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo subscribers forced the phones to call that country’s emergency services agencies. Software problems, however, are much more common. DoCoMo has had the most publicised of problems, having to recall thousands of handsets in the past few years because of software snafus. Regardless of the reason for the Siemens phone breakdowns, it's unwelcome news at a mobile phone industry gathering as major carriers push harder than ever to sell wireless data services and more sophisticated phones. Ben Charny writes for CNET News.com.
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