Mobilizing Against Wireless Viruses

Symantec, for instance, has been working with Finnish handset maker Nokia to develop security software for its high-end smart phones such as its Nokia Communicator. It has also developed antivirus software products specifically geared for handheld devices. But Symantec's Ekram admits there's still a long way to go.

"The wireless market is fragmented and there are devices that are controlled and [use] proprietary software and networks," says Ekram. "We are in discussions with a number of cell-phone makers and will continue to work with other manufacturers to cover more devices."

Last week, security software maker McAfee announced that it will provide a wireless protection solution for Japanese cellular service provider NTT DoCoMo. Its VirusScan Content Scanning technology is software embedded on so-called third generation, or 3G, cell phones. The antivirus software works in conjunction with software installed on DoCoMo's wireless network so the program is always watching and protecting against the latest security threat.

Victor Kouznetsov, senior vice president of mobile solutions at McAfee, says that such security technology can and will be seamlessly embedded on wireless networks more quickly because service providers are aware of the serious threat.

"If you look at how we use PCs, if one breaks, we move to another one," says Kouznetsov. "But the wireless phone is a critical part of the infrastructure. If we get a [virus] outbreak, we're affecting life. If my phone goes dead, I'm disconnected."

Safety in Variety?

Still, Kouznetsov admits that it will take some time before smart network protection is in place in the United States. That's because while Asia and Europe have widely adopted 3G and other advanced wireless networking systems, the U.S. market sorely lags behind in cellular and wireless technology.

"We have to replicate [our efforts] on every network that's out there. We need cooperation with [wireless] operators and [phone] makers to understand how it all works," says Kouznetsov. "All of them understand that we have to do it."

Whether or not such defensive systems will be able to safeguard wireless devices and networks remains to be seen. And while the hodge-podge of networks in the United States may hamper adding protective systems, it is also one of the reasons U.S. cell phone users don't have to worry about a major wireless attack -- yet.

"One of the things that protects us is the fact that we're using a lot of different systems," says Rasch. "But increasingly, networks are moving to [Internet-based] networks. Three or four years down the road, your voice is going to go over the network as packets of data and your cell phone becomes nothing more than a mobile Net device vulnerable to anyone and any attack. Life will be wonderful."

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