February 28, 2005
Q: I heard that there are viruses for cell phones. Are there antivirus programs for them, and, if so, where can I find them? I just spent a good amount of money for a top-line cell phone and I want to protect it. — Kevin
A: Cell phone viruses and worms are a reality, but let’s put them into perspective — it’s not like the next phone call you get could be a virus.
For the time being, cell phone viruses are about as rare as a six-week paid vacation. Some folks can get them, but it’s difficult.
To date, all of the attempts have been designed to go after cell phones that have an operating system (phones that double as a PDA or are referred to as a Smartphone). The malware primarily targets the Windows Mobile OS or Symbian OS. The Palm OS, which is used in some cell phone/PDA combos, is also a potential target.
Check with your cell phone manufacturer’s Web site if you are not sure what you have. Most of these phones are rather expensive ($300 to $800), so you should know if you have one of them.
For those who do have a newer PDA phone, you generally must allow a program to be installed into your phone’s operating system in order to become infected by one of these new generation worms or viruses. This means that you will have to be a willing participant in most of the current exploits.
The Cabir worm, which has been around since the summer of 2004, can send itself via the Bluetooth wireless technology built into Symbian-based Smartphone systems, but in order for it to infect the phone the utility must be accepted and installed by the user.
It can disguise itself as a "security management tool" to trick the user into installing it. So just like your computer, never install anything in your cell phone unless you know exactly what it is.
Bluetooth is used to exchange information between cell phones or, more commonly, to allow for wireless headsets. If you have the Bluetooth option but never use it, you can disable it on many phones as a protective measure.
Most of the antivirus companies including Symantec, Trend Micro, McAfee and FSecure have some form of cell phone antivirus program that they are working on or have already released.
Trend Micro has a free trial download available until June 30, 2005, for those users who have one of the following:
• Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003/2003SE for Smartphone
• Symbian OS v7.0 with UIQ 2.0/2.1 User Interface
• Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003/2003SE for Pocket PC
• Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003/2003SE for Pocket PC Phone Edition
The bottom line on cell phone attacks is that they will only continue to grow as cell phones become more sophisticated, but most of the stories that you are currently hearing are blown out of proportion.
A recent story of Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile Sidekick being hacked sent another false signal. Her phone did not contract a virus or get hacked or hijacked. What actually happened was her phone’s address book, notes and photos that were stored on the central T-Mobile servers was lifted from the server, not her phone.