Home Welcome To The Mobile Web, Now Here Come The Viruses?

Welcome To The Mobile Web, Now Here Come The Viruses?

Ever since our cell phones started shipping with web browsers built-in, security companies have been warning us about the threat of mobile viruses and malware. While this was likely just an attempt to broaden their reach by selling us anti-virus protection for our phones, some recent numbers make us wonder if there’s perhaps some truth to their claims.

What’s Out There?

Earlier this month, AdaptiveMobile, a mobile security provider for enterprises and individuals, released some findings about the increase of mobile virus attacks. According to the company, two mobile viruses, CommWarrior and Beselo, are causing particular damage. CommWarrior currently only affects Nokia Series 60 phones, but Beselo attacks all smartphones, and is spread via Bluetooth and MMS as a Symbian SIS installation file. Beselo is also growing at four times the rate of CommWarrior.

How Bad Is It?

But just how bad are these virus attacks? AdaptiveMobile had stats provided by one major mobile operator who preferred to not be named. That mobile operator has seen a rise in attacks from 0.5% of all messages to 6% over the last 12 months. On average, this mobile operator sees 100,000 virus incidents per day – up from 70,000 only one year ago.

AdaptiveMobile, who has some of the world’s largest mobile operators as customers and partners with leading security and telecom vendors, is now recommending that mobile operators step up their security for their subscribers. Of course, they do have a vested interest in saying so, but the increases do point towards what may be a growing trend.

There’s no great danger yet, though. Most mobile viruses aren’t nearly as dangerous as their PC counterparts. Says Gareth Maclachlan, COO of AdaptiveMobile: “It’s a worrying trend that’s not going to slow down yet. Fortunately, most subscribers are not infected as viruses are still immature and of limited virulence; but those who do get infected can lose up to 100 EUR a day from the MMS being sent by the virus…these are typically corporate users with the latest phones, and who do not scrutinize their bills…”

Is The iPhone Next?

The mobile web today is still a relatively safe place. Despite the fact that phones have had web browsers now for many years, the spread of mobile viruses has been minimal. But now that the iPhone has been introduced, the mobile web’s landscape has changed. As the easy-to-use device makes its way into the hands of more and more mainstream users, the more virus writers will want the perceived glory of writing something that attracts big attention…and they know they could get that with the iPhone.

It’s not as if the iPhone has never been hit before – in January of this year, the first trojan for the iPhone was discovered, initially by the enthusiast site modmyiphone.com and was later confirmed by security research company F-Secure. This particular virus only affected “jailbroken” phones and masked itself as an update to a 3rd-party application. All the app did was say “shoes,” but when uninstalled, it removed the files from the /bin directory, breaking valid apps in the process. At the time, F-Secure warned everyone: “This time it was an 11-year-old kid playing with XML files who created the trojan. Next time it might be someone else with more skills and with specific target.”


In June, another iPhone virus, this one called “MyPrecious,” took advantage of a security hole in iTunes and locked the infected iPhone at random intervals with a picture of a gold ring on the screen. The phone remained locked until the touchscreen was stroked, and the words “my precious” were spoken into the microphone. More of an annoyance than a lethal virus, but still concerning…especially when you consider the words of the Lithuanian hacker, Evel Soron, who created it. On the web site 4chan, Soron claimed that he’s a “big fan” of the iPhone and expects it to be “the one phone to rule them all.” The virus had been made available on his web site where it has been downloaded over 300,000 times.

Apple has a reputation for being secure – you rarely hear of Mac viruses – but one of the reasons for that (although not the only one) is because virus writers like to go after the largest install base possible to do the most damage. For computers, that was Windows machines So what will happen when the mobile web becomes dominated by iPhone users? Certainly there’s still (evil) glory to be had by writing viruses for the iPhone and if there’s anything you shouldn’t underestimate, it’s the know-how and determination of those who write malicious code.

Perhaps it’s too soon to be worried about mobile web viruses or perhaps they never will become a real threat, but we should still apply common sense and caution – especially if you choose to jailbreak your iPhone, use Bluetoooth, or send and receive a lot of SMS/MMS messages. With personal computers now safer and more secure, the next frontier could very well be our phones.

iphone image courtesy of gizmodo; mobile virus image from welovemobile.co.uk/blog; phones and crossbones from intomobile.com

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