VirusScan Wireless

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  • Editors' rating
    5.0 OK

Pros

  • It does what it says on the box.

Cons

  • Decent desktop anti-virus software will work just as well.

We don't recommend that you buy this product, even though at £24.95 (inc. VAT, or £21.23 ex. VAT) it's not exactly expensive. Despite the fact that it does everything the manufacturer claims it will, McAfee's VirusScan Wireless adds nothing to the functionality of an ordinary anti-virus package with an on-access scanner. And since this package only scans files from handheld computers, you'll need a desktop anti-virus program anyway.

The name is slightly misleading because this is a product for handheld computers and PDAs running Palm OS, EPOC32 or Windows CE -- which aren't generally 'wireless' devices as such. VirusScan Wireless checks files on your handheld before you synchronise them with your PC, thus preventing any infected files from making their way onto your PC and causing problems.

Note that VirusScan Wireless doesn't protect your handheld against infection. Apart from the fact that only one Palm trojan, and no viruses for any handheld platform, have yet been found, this scanner only works when you synchronise. The concept is that the virus scanning engine checks the data on your handheld before you synchronise it with your PC.

We tested VirusScan Wireless with a Palm OS device, and found that it worked as advertised. Since a Palm can't store a PC file, we included the test EICAR (European Institute for Computer Anti-virus Research) virus pattern in a Memo Pad document. To get VirusScan Wireless to detect this, we had to alter the default options to scan inside application data -- normally there's no risk from application data, since you can't directly execute this on your PC. The test virus was indeed detected. The dialogue box that appears when a virus is found offers to clean, delete or ignore the infected document. We found that the EICAR virus couldn't be cleaned from the notepad document, and instead it had to be deleted. Even then, it was only deleted from the Palm device, not the Palm Desktop.

It is theoretically possible for your handheld to be a path of infection: you can synchronise with two separate PCs, one of which is unprotected by standard anti-virus software; or you can accept an infrared transmission containing a virus; or you can download an infected file to your handheld (either from the Web or via email) and then synchronise with your PC. In any of these situations, you'd have to manually open the file to infect your PC -- the mere act of copying the file to your PC won't infect the whole PC. If your PC is running an on-access scanner and you try to open the infected file, it should be detected and prevented from infecting the PC.

You should always have some anti-virus protection on your PC, since you can get viruses and other malicious code from downloads and emails. However, VirusScan Wireless adds nothing to a standard desktop anti-virus package. Even if handhelds were a common infection route, some common sense measures -- don't accept untrusted content in infrared transfers, don't synchronise to an unprotected PC -- should stop you catching anything. Until some definite threat specific to handheld computers can be demonstrated, there are far more serious threats to your PC than your PDA.

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