WW-151 -- Mobile Phone Viruses - A Threat for Japanese Smart Phones?

J@pan Inc presents the Wireless Watch Newsletter:


Commentary on Japan's Wireless World

Wireless Watch Newsletter
Issue No. 151
Wednesday January 18, 2006

++ Viewpoint: Mobile Phone Viruses - A Threat for Japanese Smart Phones?

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See http://www.naviblog.jp for more.

++ Viewpoint: Mobile Phone Viruses - A Threat for Japanese Smart Phones?

In 2004, Nokia 702 phone owners were alarmed suddenly to find
their batteries dead after 30 minutes on account of extensive
Bluetooth activity of their phones.

The problem turned out to be an infection by a Cabir-worm that
uses Bluetooth communication to transmit itself in the form of
a Symbian SIS package from one phone to another. As the
Nokia phone was also sold in the Japanese market by
Vodafone, alarm bells rang in Japan. What do Japanese
carriers do to prevent phones from becoming infected?

Japanese carriers work closely with their handset suppliers
to control phone specifications. Most Japanese phones
used to run on TRON (The Real Operating system Nucleus) -
an operating system developed under the supervision of
Dr. Ken Sakamura, a Tokyo University professor. There was
never a report of a virus infecting a TRON-powered phone.

Today, however, KDDI/AU phones run on a Qualcomms
platform. Most of the DoCoMo and Vodafone phones run
on both Symbian and TRON, but the trend is toward the
adoption of Symbian because it is newer.

Java applications were a potential target for hackers. But
fragmentation of Java, which requires a hacker produce a different
strain of a single virus for each device, is so large that hackers
did not bother.

The Symbian Series60 operating system, a widely deployed
standardized platform, seem to be hackers' prime target. Symbian
applications usually prompt the user before installation. Symbian
beefed up their security with the release of the OS version 9.
Because most Symbian models of Japanese handset makers
do not have Bluetooth, this channel is not a conduit for the
spread of the viruses. Only the Panasonic model in DoCoMo's
latest 902i-series has Bluetooth.

DoCoMo installs in Symbian phones a security-scan program that
checks downloaded applications. The carrier offers free security
patches from its website. There are no reports that KDDI-phones
running on Qualcomm's platform have been infected. BREW
applications can only be downloaded from trusted servers.

Vodafone has put a software lock on installation of Symbian
software. The phone has a menu item that allows users to
enable or disable installation or restrict it to Symbian-signed
applications; so just selecting "disable" is sufficient to prevent
the software from installing itself.

Vodafone has gone one step further with its branded 702 model.
This model even prevents installation of Symbian software with
the phone installer. The only way around this is to download
and unpack the application on your PC, copy it to a memory card,
and insert the card into your phone ? a lot of work just to install
a virus application in your PC. Unlike DoCoMo, Vodafone does
not offer virus-scanning software.

Even with more secure operating systems and improved
scanning software, viruses will not be entirely eliminated.
Like in the early days of PC viruses, many mobile users will
not even be aware of viruses from infected applications
installed in their phones.

Overseas carriers should steal a page from DoCoMo's anti-virus
playbook and describe on their websites the viral threat to
mobile phones.

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Written by Arjen van Blokland; Edited by Burritt Sabin

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