Mobile viruses a slow-growing threat

By Damian Clarkson, ITWeb junior journalist
Johannesburg, 14 Jan 2005

A number of new cellphone viruses have surfaced, and while they pose no real threat at present, that could change in the future, say security experts.

Lasco.A is the latest such virus to emerge, and is considered noteworthy in that it tries to spread itself in two different ways. According to anti-virus (AV) vendor F-Secure, Lasco.A can spread both through wireless connections and by attaching itself to files.

An older cellphone virus, Cabir.A, was originally designed as a proof of concept virus, but has appeared in the wild, says AV vendor Kaspersky Lab.

Following reports of the first mobile phone infection by Cabir.A in Russia, the virus has now been detected in nine countries, although the infection rate is minimal.

According to Kaspersky, mobile phone infections, and thus preventive measures, are strikingly different from similar issues in desktops. Mobile phone infections usually occur in crowded public spaces where many people are using cellphones simultaneously.

No real threat - yet

Phone viruses are generally proof-of-concept at this stage, and all invariably require the user to consciously install and run the application before it can function properly, says Justin Stanford, CEO of AV vendor NOD32 South Africa.

"Cellphones still largely lack the complexity of PC operating systems that allow viruses and worms to exploit holes and propagate themselves. However, the rate of advancement in cellphones is rapid. The software complexity and subsequent increase in cellphone processing power is moving quickly, so I expect that as cellphones and PCs start to converge a little closer, it will become more of a serious concern," Stanford says.

Brett Myroff, CEO of local Sophos distributor Netxactics, agrees that cellphone viruses pose no real threat at present, but the potential is definitely there. "We cannot predict the future. However, with the changing landscape of cellphones with the introduction of 3G, file sharing and so on, it will be more easily transferred to phones, so the possibility is there that phone viruses could start to surface and cause problems."