Thought for the day: Protecting man's best friend

The latest virus attacks mobile phones. Isn't it time we think of phone security to avoid potential threats in the future, asks...

Simon Moores  

The latest virus attacks mobile phones. Isn't it time we think of phone security to avoid potential threats in the future, asks Simon Moores.

 

 

 

Even my local radio station was warning listeners that it’s only a matter of time before a mobile phone virus finds its way on to a phone near you.

This news rather reminded me of an early Hollywood science fiction movie brought up to date but with the B-plot - involving sinister alien invaders - unchanged.

Mass hysteria breaks out when first of all the phones are infected and then, in a final twist, their owners in turn become victims.

Of course, when you watch teenagers with their mobile phones today, the advanced symptoms of possession by the network are already visible and perhaps, as these "converged" mobile devices become even more powerful, the temptation on the part of hackers to design the code that will trigger the first smartphone pandemic, will become irresistible.

Today, however, the threat of a phone worm or virus is a little exaggerated.

The story which triggered news last week involved a worm program, nicknamed Cabir by Kapersky, the Moscow-based anti-virus company.

Cabir reportedly uses the Bluetooth wireless feature found in smartphones which run the Symbian operating system, such as my own Sony Ericsson P900, to detect other Symbian phones, and then transfers itself over an automatically established Bluetooth connection to the new host as a package file.

Now that’s interesting, if only because anyone sensible should already have Bluetooth turned firmly off on their mobile phones - the very first thing I chose to do when my new one was delivered this month. Not because I was worried by worms or viruses but because Bluetooth leaves your phone wide open to other curious users, who might wish to share your address book or more, uninvited.

Although it exploits what I would describe as the weak trust-based model which supports Symbian phones, it appears that Cabir, described as a "concept exercise", has only managed to replicate itself in laboratory conditions, so the technology has some distance to go before we need to start worrying over a mobile phone equivalent of last summer’s Blaster virus.

Unfortunately, however, once the concept has been posted to the appropriate underworld newsgroups, it’s only a matter of time before somebody comes up with a new version that may be a little more resilient and destructive.

This is another side of the open-source computing model that we don’t think much about enough. Global and frequently collaborative effort on the part of hacker groups to create new and interesting ways of introducing anarchy into the digital infrastructure of the modern world that surrounds us needs to be addressed.

It is almost 20 years since I was first given a demonstration of computer viruses that could attack an IBM PC.

Passed around on floppy discs in the very early days of the local area network, they didn’t seem that threatening. When I ran a conference in London to discuss their future, it was a niche interest event that few people took seriously.

Today, we’re a little more sanguine about malicious code and perhaps, such as worries over global warning, fuel prices, interest rates and England’s chances in Euro 2004, we could squeeze in a little thought for the future security of man’s best friend, his mobile phone.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security .

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com


 

This was last published in June 2004

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