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Mobile Phone Viruses Slow to Cross the Pond

I've seen a number of articles lately about the menace of viruses that spread over wireless phones, but most of the outbreaks I've read about have all been in Europe and Asia.

So I started to wonder how big of a deal this is for wireless customers here in the U.S.  Yesterday, I had a chance to talk with William Dudley, senior director of product management for Mobile 365 Inc., the Chantilly, Va.-based company responsible for moving roughly 80 percent of text messages between the major domestic wireless carriers.

Dudley said Mobile 365 began monitoring inter-carrier messages for viruses earlier this summer and that it each day the company filters about 200 copies of CommWarrior, a mobile-phone virus that spreads by sending copies of itself through multimedia messaging service (MMS) -- a text message format that also can handle video and audio -- to every number listed in an infected phone's address book. The virus also spreads via Bluetooth to certain phones within a short range of an infected handset.

So far, 99 percent of the cell phone viruses Mobile 365 has seen have been CommWarrior, Dudley said.  CommWarrior infects only Symbian Series 60 phones. (My suspicion is that the majority of the other mobile viruses that have been written about were submitted directly to the anti-virus companies by their creators.)

Some days, the virus-laden mobile messages are sent by a handful of infected phones. Over the past three days, for example, Mobile 365 tracked one phone sending 137 messages infected with CommWarrior. Last week, however, the company tracked some 33 handsets sending a total of 209 infected messages.

Dudley says he doesn't see mobile phone viruses as much of a threat here in the U.S. at the moment.

"I just don't see this as being a huge problem yet...it's more of a nuisance for the relatively few people who get them," Dudley said.

Still, he said, the number of mobile viruses filtered by his network continues to grow each month, and mobile viruses could become more problematic if virus writers can figure out a way to make them spread across a wider range of phones.

"I don't think most people are yet in tune with this threat ...  as they are with keeping viruses off their desktop machines," Dudley said, noting that viruses like CommWarrior generally don't spread completely on their own: Each version of CommWarrior requires the recipient to agree to install a file before the virus can infect the phone. "The bottom line is people still need to be vigilant."

By Brian Krebs  |  October 25, 2005; 8:45 AM ET
Categories:  Safety Tips  
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Comments

Not a comment on this post, but can you pass along to your editors that having a blog called "Security Fix" and another called "The Fix" is confusing?

Even they seem to be confused, because the webpage currently has a link that says "Security Fix: Bill Frist: The Reviews are In"

Posted by: Matt | October 25, 2005 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Hi, Matt. Thanks for pointing that out. It's, er...fixed.

Posted by: Bk | October 25, 2005 1:34 PM | Report abuse

"(My suspicion is that the majority of the other mobile viruses that have been written about were submitted directly to the anti-virus companies by their creators.)" - - What is the basis of this suspicion?

Posted by: S. H. | October 25, 2005 1:35 PM | Report abuse

S.H. -- Just from interviews I've done with people who work in or closely with the anti-virus vendors, who say that a large portion of the viruses they see come from the creators themselves, many of whom aren't interested in releasing their creations on the web but rather like the recognition they get when the AV companies turn around on do a writeup on their virus or worm. Doesn't hurt the AV companies any, either, b/c they get to warn about yet another threat out there!

Posted by: Bk | October 25, 2005 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Are most of the viruses in Eupore in Asia becasue of the mass of GSM based phones? IS GSM more vulverable? Or, is it the large number of users, like Windows being a target for hackers?

Posted by: Robert Doucette | October 25, 2005 5:10 PM | Report abuse

We have had quite allot of contact recently from users in the states at http://www.MobilePhoneVirus.com. However the majority of members of our alerts service are from Europe / Far East. I don't believe that many people in the US have taken up phones with the Symbian operating system so with the majority of viruses only affecting those handsets the occurrences are low.

Posted by: Sam Blakeman | October 26, 2005 4:08 AM | Report abuse

How common are vulnerable phones in the US? I'm considered an Alpha Geek by my peers yet I, as well as most of the people I know, use basic nokia models. I know two people with Razrs and three with PDA phones.

Robert: The fact that Windows faces more viruses and hackers doesn't necessarily stem from the larger user base. That's a myth propogated by Microsoft which has never been proven. In fact, many hackers use *nix systems to preform the attacks. Generally speaking, if a company is security paranoid, they use *nix. Which means the more valuable/interesting systems to hack are *nix. Windows hacks are common because 1) skript kiddes like to piss of people who flame them in chat/forums, and 2) spammers need zombies for relaying. Real hackers know as much (if not more) about *nix security as they do Windows security.

Posted by: Ben M | October 26, 2005 4:29 AM | Report abuse

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